UC Irvine: 67
South Carolina: 52
UC Irvine’s men’s basketball game against South Carolina was supposed to be a fill-in game for the Gamecocks, a tune-up for their big match-up against the University of Southern California.
Instead, UCI gave South Carolina all they could handle, pulling off a 67-52 upset victory Tuesday night, Nov. 14 at the Bren Events Center.
The Anteaters used a key 26-5 run during an 10-minute stretch to turn a short-lived 16-15 deficit into a comfortable 41-21 margin, and held off a late South Carolina rally to even up their record on the season (2-2).
Sophomore forward Adam Templeton scored 11 of his game-high 16 points during that stretch and added 10 rebounds for his second career double-double.
‘We go into every game thinking that we can compete with anybody,’ Templeton said. ‘We just got to play hard and if we play our game, I don’t think people can guard our offense.’
Junior forward Patrick Sanders added 15 points to go along with seven rebounds, and junior forward Darren Fells pitched in with 11 points and four boards.
The trio of Sanders, Fells and Templeton, which was seen as the team’s strength entering the season, scored 42 of the team’s 67 points and was the main reason for the win.
‘We started a little slow but we were able to get a little run [in the first half],’ Sanders said. ‘We got confidence in our abilities.’
After trading baskets with the Gamecocks through the first 10 minutes of the first half, the Anteaters were finally able to sustain a lead, breaking through South Carolina’s zone defense by swinging the ball around the perimeter and utilizing their inside-out game.
On the perimeter, Templeton hit three three-pointers during that stretch and finished the night on fire, shooting 6-9 from the field and 3-4 from behind the arc. Fells provided the muscle in the post, passing to open teammates and using his size to back opponents down for easy lay-ups.
‘I like the way this team plays,’ said Head Coach Pat Douglas. ‘We have a long way to go to get where we need to be but this is definitely a step in the right direction.’
One of the biggest changes Douglass made heading into the game was shifting his starting lineup, moving junior guard Chuma Awaji away from the shooting guard position and into the point-guard role.
The team struggled handling the press and getting into their offense during their weekend tournament in Fresno, and with Awaji at the point, the Anteaters committed a season-low 11 turnovers and repeatedly got good shots on offense.
‘Chuma did a great job setting up the offense,’ Templeton said. ‘That’s what we had a problem with in our last two games at Fresno.’
In his first start at the point, Awaji added 11 points and committed zero turnovers on the night.
‘I feel comfortable wherever coach wants to put me,’ Awaji said. ‘Once I got going down the floor, I felt comfortable.’
Playing their fourth game in five nights, the team slowed down the tempo, which helped create multiple lanes for their guards to penetrate.
As a result of this newfound aggressiveness, the Anteaters were able to get South Carolina’s best player and leading scorer from last season, Tre’ Kelley, into foul trouble as he picked up his third foul only seven minutes into the game and was forced to sit the rest of the first half.
Defensively, Irvine kept the Gamecocks out of the paint and away from easy basket opportunities. Even with their great height advantage over the Anteaters, the Gamecocks launched 24 three-point shots, connecting on only four of their attempts. Their inability to hit the outside shot allowed the Anteaters to play the drive and stay out of foul trouble.
UCI got sloppy against the press late in the second period, turning the ball over on consecutive possessions. The Gamecocks cut the lead to 56-46 with three minutes left in the game, but got no closer.
Freshman guard Brandis Raley-Ross led the Gamecocks with 14 points before fouling out and Kelley added 10 points, most of which came in garbage time.
‘The effort is really noticeable,’ Douglass said. ‘We have a tough pre-season schedule, so this is a big win for our group. You have to like the way this team competes.’
At halftime the Anteaters led 30-19 and never looked back on their lead.
Tuesday’s game was also the home opener for the men’s basketball team and the first time the team hosted a Southeastern Conference opponent in school history.
‘It’s a great win for us,’ Douglass said. ‘It’s a confidence builder.’