The UC Irvine men’s basketball team lost its first two regular season games at home and has started the season 0-3.
Although the numbers look bleak, the Anteaters gave their faithful fans all they could ask for in their seven-point loss against the Oregon Ducks from the Pac-10 conference, following a dismal five-point loss to visiting Eastern Washington.
The game against Oregon on Friday night at the Bren Events Center was packed with an energetic Anteater faithful: The recorded attendance of 4,206 was loud from start to finish in this epic affair.
The overall size, speed, talent, athleticism and depth were all in favor of the perennially Pac-10 power Oregon, but the Anteaters were not about to allow a team to come to the Bren and push them around.
The Anteaters fell behind 9-3 early on, until a three-point field goal from junior forward Chad DeCasas brought them to within three points. A few moments later another 3-pointer was made by senior forward Kevin Bland, who tied the contest at 9.
The contest was fast and furious. The score went back and forth with ties at 14 and 22. The Anteaters led briefly on two occasions after field goals made by freshman forward Eric Wise and junior guard Michael Hunter. The halftime score read Oregon 39, UCI 34.
As the second half began, Oregon opened up a working double-digit winning margin. After a few big buckets by Wise to close the gap, Bland simply took over the game. He put together a great half as a scorer and emerged as the Anteaters go-to player, a void left by graduating seniors Darren Fells and Patrick Sanders.
Bland put the team on his shoulders, but in the end the Ducks were too much and they defeated the Anteaters 84-77.
Bland had a team high and game high of 26 points in just 23 minutes of action, shooting a remarkable 12-14 from the field. Wise added 16 points and grabbed five rebounds. Atkinson dominated on the boards, finishing with a game high of 10 rebounds to go along with his 7 points and a great defensive shot blocking presence in the paint. DeCasas added eight points and Hunter tallied seven points, with junior guard Darren Moore securing four steals.
Following the game, Coach Pat Douglass noted, “Kevin Bland had a hell of a game, and he was very proud of the great student turn out.” He expressed optimism, stating, “In time we are going to be ok. I think we are going to have a good club; we just need to improve.”
The Oregon coach, Ernie Kent, complimented UCI and Coach Douglass.
“They are very well coached [and] they are very disciplined. I like their chemistry, and they have a great coach sitting down there. If you are looking from our perspective [he’s] one of the greatest coaches out there,” Kent said.
In the regular season home opener on Wednesday night the Anteaters fell to Eastern Washington 74-69. This game had a recorded attendance of just 1,021 more than 3,000 less than the attendance for the Oregon game.
The lack of fan support did not help the Anteaters as they struggled early and often. They shot a very poor 36.4 percent from the field in the first half and 41.7 percent for the entire game. Foul trouble plagued the highly anticipated regular season debut for junior transfer Atkinson.
About the only thing the Anteaters did well as a unit was at the free throw line with 25-29. Junior transfer Moore showed flashes of brilliance and great athleticism in his 13-point performance. Hunter also added 13 points to go along with four assists.
But it was freshman Wise who opened up eyes with his very impressive 19-point, six rebound performance that included a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line. Wise proved that he is going to be a player to watch for the next four years. His deceptive quickness and incredibly skillful low-post play is quite impressive and a joy to watch. His ability to draw the foul will be an asset to the Anteaters who are in need of scoring this season.
Following the game, Coach Douglass was disappointed, but gave credit to the opposition.
“They earned it … It was a tough loss at home, but well earned on their part,” Douglass said.
On the topic of Wise, Coach Douglass said, “He’s pretty crafty inside and he’s just going to get better with time.”
The next home game for the Anteaters is on Dec. 16 against Seattle University.