The story of the season for the UC Irvine men’s basketball team (2-5) has been second half struggles. That was the story in the Anteaters’ 78-66 loss to Utah last Saturday in Salt Lake City.
The 8,137 people in attendance saw an exciting match: the Utes rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final 11 minutes to defeat a streaky Anteater Squad in convincing fashion.
The Anteaters have been their own enemies as of late, committing unforced turnovers and failing to make open at the basket. Against the Utes, the Anteaters controlled their turnovers. They only had nine turnovers to Utah’s eight. However, in this match, untimely cold shooting hurt the Anteaters most.
Utah used runs of 14-1 and 16-3 to tie up and then take over the game in the final 11 minutes. The Anteaters shot poorly from the free throw line, only converting on seven of 16 attempts with a 43.8 percentage.
With regards to shooting, the Anteaters have shown the ability to catch fire at any moment. Unfortunately, the same goes for going cold.
UCI continued strong for the first half of play for the seventh time this season. The Anteaters shot well, stayed composed and were only down 31-28 at the half to arguably one of their toughest opponents this season.
The Anteaters came out firing in the second half, converting their first five three-point attempts. UCI shot a mind-boggling 59.1 percent from three-point range for the match, converting on 13 of 22 attempts.
The Anteaters went up 56-43 on a three-pointer by junior guard Trey Harris with 10:59 left. Harris’s three would be the last of the streak, as the Utes went on a 14-1 run over the next 3:53 to even the score at 57-57.
Junior forward Kevin Bland, who led UCI with 14 points, converted on two free throw attempts to put the Anteaters up 63-62 with 4:01 remaining. That would be the last lead for the Anteaters for the night. The Anteaters missed six of their last seven shots and hit just six of 14 free throws in the second half, and Utah capitalized by going on a 16-3 run to finish the game.
Utah improved to 4-2 behind junior guard Lawrence Borha’s 24 points, 16 of which came in the second half.
Borha made nine of 10 shots, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out eight assists.
Senior forward Darren Fells was second in scoring behind Bland for the Anteaters with 13 points. Fells replaced junior Adam Rodenberg in the starting lineup. Sources say that Rodenberg is out for the season with a hernia.
Junior guard Chuma Awaji continued his solid play this season, scoring nine points. Junior guard Brett Lauer added nine points of his own and recorded a career-high five assists.
‘We played well for 34 minutes, but we didn’t hit our free throws and wore down a bit at the end. We missed some defensive assignments and didn’t do some things down the stretch you need to do to win on the road,’ said Coach Pat Douglass to UCI Athletics.
UCI shot 46.9 percent from the field to Utah’s 55.6 percent, and was out rebounded 32-24.
The Anteaters return to action this Saturday, Dec. 8 when they host the University of Alaska Fairbanks at 7:05 p.m. at the Bren Events Center.