Time is not currently a friend of the UC Irvine men’s basketball team. With the regular season winding down, the Anteaters must play some of their best basketball of the year in order to play in the Big West Tournament. UCI took one step back from its postseason goal when it lost a nail-biter to Long Beach State on Thursday night in Long Beach. Irvine suffered a 75-74 not-much-needed loss, which will certainly hurt UCI’s chances of making it to Anaheim for the post-season tournament.
The match-up between the two ball clubs, who have had an epic rivalry, started out well for Irvine as it connected on its first 10 out of 14 field goals to open the game. Irvine played a strong first half of basketball and jumped out to a 29-22 lead, its biggest of the contest. Junior guard Michael Hunter was on fire in the first half and made four of five shots, and three of those came from long distance. The Anteaters had a 6-point lead late in the first frame, but the 49ers scored 5 points to end the half and left Irvine clenching to a 1-point lead.
Irvine shot 56.2 percent (15-of-28) from the field in the first half, making seven of 12 shots from 3-point land. CSULB out-rebounded UCI 15-8 and committed one less turnover than the Anteaters. Irvine was not able to contain the 49ers’ hot hand in the first, as Long Beach made 53.6 percent of its shots.
Irvine started the second period with a lot of promise by hitting three of its first five attempts from the field and built a 43-39 lead with 15:51 to play. It was CSULB turn to answer back and they enlisted the services of junior guard Stephan Gilling. Gilling scored a career-high 23 points and hit seven 3-pointers, five of those in the second half. Gilling’s third 3-pointer gave Long Beach a 50-46 lead with 11:45 to go in the game. Gilling almost single-handedly brought the 49ers from behind and gave them a 10-point lead with eight minutes to go. The score was CSULB 73 UCI 62 with 1:59 left in the game
Long Beach was about to start preparing for its showdown with Cal State Northridge, vying for the number-one spot in the Big West Conference on Feb. 28 at Northridge, but UCI would not go quietly into the night. The Anteaters went on a 9-0 run in 51 seconds to pull within 2 points with 1:08 to play. As he had done throughout the game, Gilling stepped up in the clutch, hitting a pair of free throws with 29 seconds left to give the 49ers a 4-point advantage. Sophomore guard Patrick Rembert made a 3-pointer as time expired to end the scoring.
Freshman forward Eric Wise led UCI with 17 points, with 13 of those coming in the second. Hunter had a total of 16 points on the night and went four for seven 3-point distance. Rembert and forwards Kevin Bland and Chad DeCasas each scored 8 points.
UCI 78 UCR 72
The UC Irvine men’s basketball team needed an extra period to defeat Big West Conference rival UC Riverside with the score of 78-72. Last Saturday’s overtime thriller marked the last game of the season to be played at the Bren Events Center by the men’s basketball team. In addition, it was the last home game for two seniors Brett Lauer and Kevin Bland.
Following a sluggish start, a series of 3-point field goals put the Anteaters up by a comfortable margin. Freshman forward Eric Wise did his best Shaq impersonation following a layup inside as he sprinted back for defense. UCI led by as many as 12 points in the first half, but UCR slowly chipped away at UCI’s lead. As time was running down in the first half of play, sophomore guard Patrick Rembert, dribbled the ball slightly in front of half court waiting for the right time to strike. Coach Pat Douglass gave the signal and Rembert started the offensive attack and found Bland underneath the net who culminated the half with a nice two-handed jam to put the Anteaters up 5 points with the score of 29-24.
As the second half began, it was evident that UCR was not going to fold easily. Following a first half of basketball that saw one lead change and no times where the game was tied after 0-0, the second half of play was a polar opposite as it proved to be a much closer game that included 10 lead changes and seven instances where the score was tied. The Anteaters led by 2 points with about two minutes remaining in regulation with the score of 57-55 when UCR began to put on the pressure. UCR nailed a 3-pointer to go up by 1 point with one minute and 30 seconds remaining. The Anteaters were in a bad position down by 3 points with less than a minute to go, when junior guard Michael Hunter hit a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game at 62 with 28.70 seconds remaining in regulation. A defensive stand by the Anteaters put the game into overtime.
As the overtime period began, Rembert decided he had enough of playing in a close game. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Anteaters up 68-63 with 2:51 left to go in overtime. Rembert nailed another deep shot, but the referee ruled his toe was on the line, putting UCI up 7 points. The Highlanders held strong and cut the lead to 2 points before junior wing Chad DeCasas hit on both free-throw attempts to put the game out of reach and prove that, “There can be only one,” and on Saturday night that one was UCI. The final score read 78-72 which improved UCI’s record to 11-18 overall and 7-8 in Big West Conference play.
Forward Wise, who played high school basketball in Riverside, led the Anteaters in scoring with 20 points and seven rebounds to go with four assists. DeCasas scored 16 points off the bench, 14 of which came in the second half and overtime. Bland added to his Big West Conference league leading double-double output earning his seventh of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds. In addition to his great overtime performance, Rembert finished the game with 11 points and game highs of five assists and a much needed 42 minutes of play.
“[UCR] have a nice ball club; they are very athletic and very difficult for us to defend,” said Head Coach Pat Douglass after the game. “Hunter was a little off his game and then he buried the shot in the corner, in overtime and down the stretch. Rembert had a couple key buckets that were key.”
Coach Douglass was proud of the all-around team effort.
“I thought Eric Wise’s 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists was a good line. Kevin Bland [also had] another double-double, [and] I thought Chad DeCasas gave us a big lift coming in and giving us 16, he played good defense, I thought he played a good overall game,” he said.
Rembert noted on the victory, “It feels good, especially getting our last home game for our seniors, Kevin and Brett.”
“It should be fun, anyone can beat anybody on any night, so it’s going to be exciting,” Laur said after the game.
On the same subject, Bland mentioned, “Who knows where we will be seeded … It will be interesting and a fun ride.”
The recorded attendance for the game was another good turnout with 3,693.Wise was happy to say, “Thank you everyone for coming out. The crowd was great again.”
The Anteaters play at Cal State Fullerton this Saturday to close out the regular season, and then move on to the Big West Tournament.