UCI 84, LMU 78: Two Lonely Anteater Fans In the Lions’ Den
To just about everyone else in the world, Wednesday night’s basketball game between UC Irvine and Loyola Marymount University was a mostly inconsequential early season non-conference match-up. But for my high school bud Pappy and me, it was our own personal Super Bowl.
Pappy is the kind of guy who knows where every single NBA guy played college ball, while I am the kind of guy who, well, drives up to Los Angeles on the night before an English 100 essay is due to watch a collegiate mid-major basketball game. Of course, we would end up at schools that have never been to the NCAA Tournament (UCI) and a school that has won a combined eight games the last two seasons (LMU).
However, both of us were beyond excited for this game. It was LMU’s home opener, and their re-building process was finally coming along with the new blood of Oregon transfer Drew Viney and Seton Hall transfer Larry Davis. Meanwhile, I was anxious for a more experienced UCI team to face a team that presented a fair match-up for the first time this season.
Obviously having not learned my lesson from my last foray into Los Angeles rooting for the enemy, I gathered up another high school friend and ex-CIA leader, EJ, and headed down into “Roar” territory ready to “Zot Zot Zot” after free throws. Upon entering Gersten Pavilion, I noticed once again the superior nature of our Bren Events Center. Although LMU did have a fog machine for the team’s entrance and a small jumbotron screen, the student section had no seat backs and there were also no seats or much room behind either basket. However, LMU did have an impressive amount of male cheerleaders. The one leading the charge out of the locker room with a large LMU flag was slowed down by UCI’s Adam Folker, who slowly trotted off the court. This was much more entertaining visually than it is written down.
Off the bat, UCI started off sluggishly. Senior center Zack Atkinson notched two straight goaltending calls, and Viney was on fire from outside. Down 10-2 just three minutes in the game, Douglass called a timeout.
About nine minutes in the game, Eric Wise and Darren Moore hit back-to-back three’s to bring UCI back into the game a little bit, but Viney hit yet another three on his way to 30 total points on the night.
At this point, a group of slightly inebriated LMU fans arrived late to this game, sitting down in front of Pappy, EJ, and me. Dressed up in ridiculous costumes, they brought mini safety cones to try and distract the UCI players. At first just a slight annoyance to our sightlines, things changed when one of them noticed that we were from UCI. The safety cone pointed towards us instead of the court, and we were heckled voraciously from then on for the rest of the game. I understand defending your home court and giving the opposing team fans a hard time, but this went above and beyond any reasonable course of action. In an attempt to make us move, the guy bust out racist remarks, Irvine stereotypes that did not even make sense, and about fifty different variations of the word “douchebag.” He stopped watching the game and was instead more focused on disturbing us.
UCI began battling back, coming out of the second half on a 9-0 run to take the lead for the first time all game. Junior Pavol Losonsky had his best game as an Anteater, playing tough defense and showing some nice post moves. Junior Darren Moore started playing lock down defense, and the Anteaters started stealing the ball and forcing turnovers on a Lions team that seemed to lose its poise. Sophomore Eric Wise and senior Michael Hunter did their job as the main scorers, but LMU managed to be leading 74-72 with 3:44 left in the game.
After a few missed shots on both sides, LMU looked to have a surefire dunk from their freshman center Edgar Garibay. All of a sudden, Atkinson emerged from behind and came up with a crucial block. This led to a fast break bucket from freshman Mike Wilder, and it was a tied ball game. Hunter then would come through in signature clutch form, nailing not one, but two huge three’s that put the ’Eaters up 77-74 and then again 80-76. These daggers in the hearts of the Lions chances silenced the crowd except from our constant obscene offender, but at this point his voice did not really register anymore.
EJ and I left Gersten triumphant, with a speechless Pappy more embarrassed by the tool that represented his university so poorly. LMU would go on to beat USC on the road, proving the UCI win to be no small feat. UCI showed the ability to fight back on the road, plus their deeper bench and post presence. Atkinson showed his improvement with four blocks, and Wise was back to his old ways with 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Reinvigorated about our season chances (although it is still early, and the ’Eaters often prove to be enigmatic), the drive back down to Irvine was a whole lot easier, as our boys proved once again, that winning conquers all.