Matadors Mauled, But 49ers Prevail
UCI 65, CSU Northridge 62
The wild Big West Conference has been impossible to predict thus far, with perceived bottom-dweller Cal Poly upending UC Irvine on Monday night 95-81 behind 38 points from Mustangs guard Lorenzo Keeler.
However, UCI came back strong that same week with arguably their best team effort of the year in a win over Cal State Northridge on the road, 65-62. Sophomore sensation Eric Wise once again carried the team with 14 points, 10 of them in the second half, but this time the rest of the team chipped in a bit more than usual. Junior guard Patrick Rembert and sophomore guard Derrick Strings both had 12 points each, while junior guard Darren Moore and senior guard Michael Hunter had 11 apiece. For Strings, who drained three of four free throws, it was a welcome relief to get some points and playing time.
Strings’ three with 2:15 left in regulation broke a 59-59 tie that UCI would never look back from. Three successful free throws by Moore sealed the deal in the end, as the Anteaters made a couple more big stops against Northridge’s Lenny Daniel and Vinnie McGhee.
Sophomore forward Adam Folker was rewarded for his recent strong play by receiving a start, and chipped in 3 points and 6 rebounds. Folker’s weak point is finishing his layups and put-backs around the hoop, but his inspired play in other aspects of the game is earning him more playing time.
Long Beach St. 55, UCI 53
With 4.1 seconds left to play, UCI was down by two with the ball in their hands. Hunter took the ball and drove the full-length of the court to lay the ball in over the out-stretched fingertips of Eugene Phelps, only to have the referee rush in waving his arms. The buzzer had sounded before the shot had left Hunter’s hands.
“Hunter had an open lane to the basket, and he’s a senior, so we all trust him to make the right decision, but he just was a little too late,” freshman guard Mike Wilder said.
Immediately before, Wise had managed to get two decent shots off, and Folker had a tip-in chance, but all three opportunities missed as UCI tried to tie the game at 55. However, TJ Robinson of the 49ers missed the free throw on the other end of the court, giving the ’Eaters one more chance. It was a game decided by inches, and an unlucky few bounces doomed UCI.
Long Beach came into the game having lost five straight, including a couple tough match-ups against Kentucky and Duke. Thus, Head Coach Dan Monson had the 49ers primed for the game, making it a must-win for the 49ers, who were pre-season favorites for the Big West crown.
“I made a crusade on this game for our defense to try and win it,” Long Beach head coach Dan Monson said.
The win for Long Beach was their first conference win on the season, lifting them to 7-9, 1-2 in the Big West on the season, while UCI dropped to an even 8-8, 2-2 in the Big West.
Wise led the team with 12 points, but was an uncharacteristic 8-13 from the free throw line. The big forward had been averaging 22.8 points his last 5 games, and is reigning back-to-back Big West Player of the Week. He has seemed a bit tired after playing nearly 40 minutes against Cal Poly on Monday and having four games in the span of eight days.
Hunter added 10 points, despite his failed last attempt. Meanwhile, Wilder, who graduated from Long Beach Wilson, had a so-so homecoming game, scoring seven points, all in the first half, but committing two costly turnovers in the second half.
“I was really excited, a lot of my family and friends came to support me,” Wilder said. “[Coach Douglass] said that we could have had that game, we played hard … it’s just how it is sometimes.”
An uninspired crowd at Walter Pyramid watched the two teams come out to a sluggish start in the first half, with Irvine managing to eke ahead 25-21 at the half. To their credit, Irvine never backed down and kept it close the whole time.
“Long Beach is a good team that was playing at home so I was pleased with our overall effort,” Head Coach Pat Douglass added.
Next up, UC Irvine stays on the road for two tough conference games against UC Davis and University of the Pacific.