UCI Defense Shuts Down Gauchos

UCI 57, UCSB 55

UC Irvine basketball team started Big West conference play with a bang, tightening the defensive clamps on a bigger UC Santa Barbara team, defeating the Gauchos 57-55 on Saturday night.

“We hadn’t been attacking the zone well, and Santa Barbara plays match-up zone, so it was a little bit of a concern, and we worked on it [in practice],” Head Coach Pat Douglass said. “I thought tonight we did a good job of creating some shots.”

Playing to a Bren Events crowd filled mostly with the Irvine community, the two UCs battled back and forth. Early butterfingers on some potential offensive rebounds for UCI let UCSB slip ahead 24-20 with 3:06 left in the first half, prompting a timeout from Coach Douglass. However, sophomore forward Adam Folker came in and provided a boost with his scrappy play. The Canadian native grabbed a career high 14 rebounds, added 6 points, and got one official steal while aiding in a few other Gaucho turnovers. UCI led 27-24 at the half.

“I’ve just been working harder,” Folker said, when asked about his increase in minutes since the beginning of the season. “Coach gave me a good opportunity to play tonight, and I thought I helped our team win.”

In the second half, Eric Wise came out on fire, leading the ’Eaters on a 10-3 run to put UCI up 37-27. Wise ended up scoring 17 of his 21 points in the second half, and is now averaging 25 points in his last three games.

“Second half I was more aggressive, started attacking the zone, looking to score more,” Wise said. “First half, I was looking to pass. The coaches told me ‘don’t start at the high post, flash at the high post’; the first half I was just staying there.”

Zack Atkinson got into a bit of foul trouble early but managed to add a big block at 15:57 that kept the momentum going for UCI. However, a couple questionable calls against Irvine helped the Gauchos stay in it, as the score was 42-36 with 10:57 to play. Darren Moore added an impressive block of his own, while Folker kept up his good play, and UCI never trailed again. A couple of garbage points by the Gauchos with less than ten seconds remaining made the score a bit closer than it really was.

“We just started to lock down on defense, do a better job of rebounding, and fast break a little more [in the second half],” Wise said. “That might have been the best defensive game we played [all year].”

Senior guard Michael Hunter added 16 points of his own on 4-8 shooting from three. The senior guard has been the only consistent three point shooter for the ’Eaters this season. UCI (7-6, 1-0) continues their stretch of four conference games in eight days by taking on Cal Poly at the Bren on Monday at 7. They go on to face Cal State Northridge on Thursday and Long Beach State on Saturday.

“We always say it’s a new season when conference play starts, so it’s good to be 1-0,” Wise said.

Recap of Winter Break Action

Eric Wise spent his winter break earning Big West Player of the Week honors for scoring 23 points in a win against Pepperdine on Dec. 21. The 6’5” sophomore then followed that up by dropping a career high 31 points on San Jose State. Unfortunately, the rest of the team could not quite do enough to prevent the ’Eaters from going 2-3 over winter break, including a 1-3 mark against Division I opponents.

Coming off a solid 80-70 win against the University of Hawaii, UCI started the break off by dispatching Vanguard 81-73, an NAIA team with some talent. Senior guard Michael Hunter poured in 22 points while Zack Atkinson recorded his first double-double as an Anteater by scoring 14 points and 10 rebounds. Atkinson recorded a couple flashy alley-oops, which is becoming a recurring event for a more athletic Anteater team.

Next, UCI travelled to play Seattle University at KeyArena, the former home of the ex-NBA Seattle Supersonics. A close game featuring 18 lead changes saw the ’Eaters take a 81-80 lead on a Hunter jumper with 36 seconds left, but Wise fouled Redhawk star Charles Garcia, who converted both free throws to put Seattle back on top 82-81. Unfortunately, UCI’s last chance shot did not get organized, as a play designed for Hunter fell apart and ended up stolen by Garrett Lever.

Garcia ended up with 29 points and 13 rebounds for Seattle, while UCI was led by Hunter with 23 and Darren Moore with 12.

Next, UCI hosted San Jose State on Dec. 18, and started off the first half on fire. Atkinson routinely outjumped opposing center CJ Webster, recording multiple alley-oops and dunks. UCI was up by as much as 10, and ended the half up 32-27. However, a stingy zone defense by the Spartans in the second half shut down the Anteaters offense, as it consisted of passing it around the horn and trying to force it inside to Wise, who would then be triple teamed. SJS guard Adrian Oliver poured in 31 points, and the Spartans won the game 69-56.

WCC opponent Pepperdine came to the Bren on Dec. 21 and hung tough with the ’Eaters for much of the game. UCI forced 21 turnovers while only committing 9, but Pepperdine shot the ball over 50 percent from the field and over 60 percent from three in the first half to lead 40-37 at half. In the second half, UCI turned on the defensive intensity and lowered the Waves shooting percentage to 31.8 percent. Dunks from Atkinson, Wise and Moore energized the ’Eaters, and they pulled away at the end to win 74-61.

Playing SJS for the second time in ten days, The Anteaters found much of the same at Walt McPherson Court, as Oliver once again dominated the Anteaters by scoring 29 points. Wise outdid Oliver with 31, and Hunter added 19, but the rest of the ’Eaters could only muster up 18 points, and UCI fell 78-68.