As the clock winds down, Patrick Sanders stares intently at the basketball hoop some 30 feet away. The crowd looks on, anticipating the senior shooting guard’s next move. All of a sudden, Sanders jab steps left before crossing over back to the right, driving with explosion against the opposing defender. Suddenly, in one fluid motion, Sanders leaps up fading, seemingly defying gravity for a brief second, before sinking the jumper with a hand in his face.
It’s a scene that UC Irvine basketball fans are familiar with this season. Sanders, who was named to the Big West Preseason Team, has lived up to the hype by leading the team in scoring with 15.8 points per game.
He has stepped it up even further in the conference games by scoring in the double digits in 15 of the 16 conference games. His two highs include 27 on the road against Cal State Fullerton and 25 at home against Pacific, two of the top teams in the conference.
“[The key to my success] is just practicing a lot,” Sanders said. “I worked with Coach [Ross] Land a lot this spring, which helped a lot. [My mindset was] just to get better from last season, and try not to listen to all the preseason stuff. It’s all about what you do on the court.”
Sanders was named Big West Player of the week in the last week of February for averaging 19.5 points and 5.5 rebounds against Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge. In both games he came up big down the stretch, scoring the final 11 points for UCI to go from being down two points to winning by seven against Long Beach. Against the conference-leading Matadors, Sanders hit two jumpers in a row when CSUN threatened within three late in the second half. Sanders attributed his increase in success this season to an improved shot.
“Shooting the ball consistently has been the biggest difference [this season],” Sanders said. “It’s real tough to get use to the speed of Division I basketball, you’ve got to [shoot] real quick, you can’t just shoot standing still