UC Irvine 75
Junior forward Patrick Sanders is back to his old self and his timing couldn’t be any better for the UC Irvine men’s basketball team.
After averaging only eight points a game through the first nine conference games of the season, Sanders exploded for a career-high 23 points, helping lead the Anteaters to a 75-66 win over the Cal State Northridge Matadors Saturday night at the Bren Events Center in front of a homecoming crowd of 4,754 people.
‘It was a little frustrating,’ Sanders said about his struggles in conference play. ‘But, I mean, it’s all about winning. I am just glad we won. If I can help do that, I am fine with that.’
Sanders, the team’s leading scorer, scored 16 second-half points and grabbed four rebounds to help push the Anteaters into the all-important fourth spot in the Big West Conference (the fourth seed receives the final first-round bye in the Big West Tournament).
Junior guard Chuma Awaji matched a career-high with 19 points, junior forward Darren Fells scored 14 points while grabbing seven rebounds and senior forward Nic Campbell came off the bench and added 11 points for the Anteaters.
‘We had to win our last conference home game,’ Awaji said. ‘Even though we were down at halftime we came out in the second half as a team, as one unit, and we came out with the victory.’
After committing 20 turnovers and taking 19 fewer shots from the field then their opponents (55 to 36), the Anteaters still managed to win the game due in large part to their performance at the free throw line.
The Anteaters shot 32-45 from the free throw line, outscoring the Matadors by 15 points from the charity stripe.
The team’s aggressive play pushed the Matadors into the penalty early in both halves and Sanders and Awaji converted on their easy opportunities.
Sanders finished the game 14-16 from the free throw line while Awaji was perfect, converting on all 12 of this attempts.
‘I just wanted to keep attacking,’ Sanders said. ‘I would rather be [at the free throw line] then have to shoot a contested shot.’
When asked about Sanders’ 16 free-throw attempts, Head Coach Pat Douglass said, ‘I think that’s great growth on his part because early in the year he would have settled for, you know, step back shots.