UCI 71, LB St. 60
There are a lot of great rivalries in the sport’s world. There’s the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, Yankees-Red Sox, Duke-North Carolina and The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. In Irvine, we have our own little rivalry: UC Irvine vs. Long Beach State. Last Saturday was another chapter in the Black ‘n’ Blue series, this time with UCI coming out on top.
The Anteaters got revenge on the 49ers at the Bren Events Center for an earlier season loss in Long Beach. UCI was able to outlast Long Beach for a 71-60 win that was also their third conference win of the season. The ’Eaters were led by big men Eric Wise and Adam Folker, who kept the 1,904 fans in attendance on their feet the whole night. Wise finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Folker went 7-9 from the field for 14 points. Darren Moore and Michael Hunter each chipped in ten points.
The game started off dead even as both teams answered their opponent’s scores with scores of their own. It wasn’t ’til halfway through the first period that UCI was able to distance themselves from Long Beach. It was the Wise show during this period as the sophomore forward scored nine consecutive points to push the UCI lead to ten. The play of the game came during the Anteater’s hot run as Wise ran the floor after a rebound and skipped the ball to Zach Atkinson for a two-handed jam that energized Eater Nation.
However, the good times did come to a halt as the Anteaters lost one of its best and then the lead. At the 7:30 mark, Michael Hunter fell to the ground going after a loose rebound, injuring his lower back in the process. He was helped off the court and missed some playing time as he received treatment. Long Beach then went on a 7-0 run to close the period and trail UCI 30-28 at halftime.
Folker started the second half with two consecutive buckets to give UCI the six-point advantage. Long Beach fought back the whole entire game and cut the lead to two with around four minutes to go. However, Hunter was able to fight off his injury and step into a three with 3:22 mark. Hunter stole the ball from Long Beach on their next possession and had his layup blocked, but goaltending was called against Long Beach. The five point outburst put Irvine up by seven and essentially put the 49ers away for good.
After the game, Coach Pat Douglass discussed why his team was able to beat Long Beach this time around.
“I like our overall defense and the way we took care of the ball. For what Adam Folker usually does, this was a big game for him. With all that’s been going on with the weather, I was really pleased with the [crowd’s] enthusiasm,” Douglass said.
Eric Wise also talked about the win after the game.
“We feel like we can compete with anybody. The number one spot [in the conference] is open,” Wise said. “We have been giving up the lead lately, but we were able to sustain it tonight. It was really good to beat them because we let them slip away from us at Long Beach. We never gave up and that proved our character and our heart.”
When asked about his back and the game, Michael Hunter responded with: “I came back into the game and my back was killing me, but I was able to play. We were trying to come out aggressive, not tentative.”
The Anteaters shot 42.2 percent for the game and out-rebounded Long Beach State, 43-41. The 49ers only managed to shoot 31.7 perecnt from the field for the game, including 25 percent in the first half. Long Beach did manage to shoot an impressive 85.7 percent from the free throw stipe compared to UCI’s 66.7 percent. Irvine’s bench outscored Long Beach’s bench by eight points.
UCI 56, UCR 65
Following the positive performance against Long Beach, UCI (9-11, 3-5) continued their struggle with game-to-game consistency and the ability to finish games off in their favor against UC Riverside on Saturday, Jan. 24.
The Highlanders (8-11, 2-5), who had not won at the Bren since 1977, a span that had included nine Anteater wins, pulled away from a 52-52 deadlock at 4:27 left in the second half. Two free throws by Darren Moore made the score 57-56 with 1:24 left, but UCR star Kyle Austin answered with a one-handed jumper at 1:03, and Michael Hunter’s ensuing drive missed. UCI would never recover, and free throws by Riverside to close the game made the score, 65-56, appear more lopsided.
“I thought Riverside played a hard-nosed game and pushed us around a little bit,” Head Coach Pat Douglass said. “They made some key buckets down the stretch.”
UCR, who snapped a five game losing streak with the win, had been an abysmal 1-9 on the road. However, junior guard Dwight Gordon stepped up off the bench with 19 points on 7-11 shooting. Austin, who only had two points at the half, wound up with 18 on the night.
“All the games on this road trip were must-wins,” Austin said. “We dug ourselves in a hole, and now we have to dig ourselves out. We know that we are a better team than our record shows.”
Hunter led the charge for the Anteaters, scoring 20 points, including a torrid stretch early in the second half where he scored nine straight points for UCI. Sophomore Eric Wise was hounded and doubled all night, but still put in 14 points with 4 assists and 4 rebounds. UCI also received some inspired play from walk-on sophomore Jonas Lalehzadeh, who had a dramatic block and then steal to finish the first half on a positive note.
In an extremely close Big West, every game is important, and could have dramatic effects on tournament seeding. Irvine continues their home stand against University of the Pacific conference leaders next Thursday, Jan. 28, before battling the Titans of Cal State Fullerton on the road Saturday, Jan. 30.