Mediocrity in Kentucky

The UC Irvine men’s basketball team trekked out to Richmond, Kentucky to participate in the sub-regional portion of the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic on Nov 23-25, going 1-2.

“We improved as a program although we didn’t play good basketball early on in the tournament,” Assistant Coach Doug Oliver said. “As the three days of competition went on, we found out more about some of our players. We were pleased with the play of Mike Wilder … not only his scoring ability but some of the other things he did on the floor.”

UCI 56, UTSA 66

The University of Texas, San Antonio, although lacking the name of big brother and previous UCI opponent University of Texas, is a fine basketball team in their own right. The Roadrunners were picked to win their third straight Southland Conference title this year, and started the season by beating Big 10 opponent University of Iowa.

“UTSA was comparable to an upper level Big West team, lot of athleticism, upstyle tempo of play,” Oliver said.

With senior center Zack Atkinson out with a shoulder problem, sophomore forward Eric Wise had his first real dominant performance of the year, scoring 15 of the Anteaters’ 27 points in the first half. Senior guard Michael Hunter added 15 points on 3-7 three point shooting for the game, and the ’Eaters had a tie ball game at 25 with six minutes left in the first half.

However, the Roadrunners used the remainder of the half to stretch the lead, as their small but quick guards Omar Johnson, 5’7”, and Devin Gibson, 6’0”, put UTSA up 17 with 10:34 left in the game. UCI coach Pat Douglass tried numerous lineups in an effort to matchup with the smaller Roadrunners, with 11 ’Eaters getting playing time.

UCI seemed to find some magic with junior walk-on Emil Kim, who scored six points and collected three rebounds, two offensive, in 12 minutes of play. The 6’4” guard’s inspired play as part of an uncommonly small UCI lineup brought the ’Eaters back into the game somewhat, but the Anteaters ran out of time and took the 10 point loss.

UCI 57, Eastern Kentucky 67

Host school Eastern Kentucky represented another lesser known quality opponent for UCI. The Colonels, with no true centers, were led by Justin Strommes and Josh Taylor, who scored 21 and 16 points respectively. Freshman guard Mike Wilder had a breakout performance for the ’Eaters by pouring in 18 points on 6-9 three point shooting.

For a team that has lacked in the three-point shooting department since the graduation of sharpshooter Brett Lauer, Wilder’s performance may have large implications for the season’s success. However, on this particular night, UCI could not overcome a large turnover deficit and poor free throw shooting. The Colonels made 22 of their 26 free throw attempts, while UCI only hit 7 of 14. The Colonels only turned the ball over nine times to the Anteaters 16, and UCI suffered yet another 10 point loss.

“Eastern Kentucky was a changing defense, lot of zone defense, and i thought we attacked it quite well for this early in the season,” Oliver said. “But at this stage, both [UTSA and Eastern Kentucky] are veteran ballclubs and probably a little better than we are.”

UCI 75, Fairleigh Dickinson 54

Playing their third game in three days, UCI had no problem taking down former assistant coach Greg Vetrone’s Fairleigh Dickinson Knights on Wednesday, Nov 25.

“We faced a very physical, imposing type team in Fairleigh Dickinson,” Oliver said. “They had size, and they had strength on the perimeter.”

Michael Hunter shot 6-9 for 16 points to lead a fairly spread out team effort. Wise added 11 points and an impressive six assists to earn a spot on the all-tournament team, while Wilder added 12 points, going a perfect 2-2 from 3 point land. The 6’2” guard out of Long Beach is now a ridiculous 9-12 from beyond the arc on the season.

Sean Baptiste led the Knights with 19 points and seven rebounds as the small private school out of New Jersey fell to 1-5 on the season.

Sophomore Adam Folker also took advantage of his first extended playing time on the season to record 22 rebounds in the three games. Fellow post player Atkinson returned in this game as well, picking up seven points and another block. The senior out of South Carolina is really making his post presence felt thus far, with eight blocks in four games.

Anteater basketball stands at 3-3 after the tournament and a five game road trip, and will finally return home to play the University of Hawaii on Wednesday, Dec 2.