UCI Wants ‘Moore’
UC Irvine men’s basketball had their season on the line last Saturday, with a vivacious Homecoming crowd of 2,620 cheering them on and Fox Sports Prime Ticket broadcasting the game.
Win, and UCI moves into a three way tie for seventh place in the Big West. Lose, and UCI burrows itself into a nearly inescapable last place hole. Only the top eight teams in the Big West make it on to the Big West Tournament, with a chance at the NCAA Tournament. Led by usual suspects Eric Wise and Michael Hunter, the Anteaters (13-16, 5-9 Big West) played hard all night, coming up with key play after key play late in the second half to end up with the 79-74 victory over Cal State Northridge (10-19, 5-9 Big West).
“It was a great defensive effort,” Head Coach Pat Douglass said. “A couple of guys had fouled out and we were a bit undersized but we just fought like heck at the end.”
Sophomore Adam Folker made the play of the game, with less than 20 seconds left. Northridge was down 75-74 when Northridge’s Kenny Daniels tried to put CSUN ahead, but Folker deflected the shot, hustling to grab the ball on the floor, and smartly calling a timeout when he had possession of a ball that was still being hotly contested.
“We were just trying to play uptight defense … they drove the ball and tried to get up a floater, and luckily I got a piece of it and collected it from the floor,” Folker said.
Wise played determined ball and on fire from the outset. He collected 12 points and 9 rebounds in the first half alone. The whole team seemed to be energized, playing good defense on a taller and more athletic Matador team. Northridge lent a helping hand by only shooting 6-13 for an abysmal 46.2 percent, and UCI managed to lead 37-35 at halftime.
“That’s as well as [Wise] has played in a long time … he played with a lot of effort,” Douglass said. “He carried us early.”
In the second half, Wise alertly and beautifully threw an alley-oop pass over the entire Matador defense for a Zack Atkinson slam. Hunter also shot well in the second half, clearly wanting to leave Irvine on a good note. Both he and Atkinson were honored before the game as seniors playing their last home games for UCI.
Unfortunately, Atkinson, who battled with Matador big man Willie Galick the entire game, picked up his fourth personal foul at the 18:14 mark, and had to leave the game. The ’Eaters post defense suffered for awhile, but UCI was kept afloat by Hunter’s three point shooting. The senior guard crept closer to the UCI all-time record for career 3-pointers, and ended up with a game-high 22 points and four assists. The team also received a boost from their bench.
“[Derrick] Strings came out and helped out, and at the end [Adam] Folker too … [Derick] Flowers as well. We needed our bench to step up and they did,” Douglass said. “Emil [Kim] played his butt off … we went through all of our post players, and he’s a little bit undersized, but he really played with great tenacity.”
Atkinson came back into the game at the 12 minute mark, resuming the jostling with Galick. A questionable call on Darren Moore “holding” Galick resulted in two made free throws immediately after a made three pointer from CSUN, resulting in a five-point swing. Down 64-56 with under 9:30 left in the game, UCI would not fold however. They instead stepped up their defensive intensity, repeatedly forcing turnovers and getting steals.
“Our whole team played with a lot of heart,” Folker said. “We take losses pretty hard, and so it was great to get a win.”
Moore continued his strong play by nailing a huge three at 2:42, putting the ’Eaters up 74-70, much to the pleasure of a now roaring student section.
“That was a big bucket,” Douglass said. “[Moore] seemed to not be as aggressive for a while [in the game], but got aggressive at the end and the whole game changed for us.”
However, with UCI hanging on to a 74-72 lead with 1:42 left in the game, Galick got the best of Wise, when Wise’s drive on Galick was ruled an offensive charge, fouling out Wise. Rembert’s driving layup did not go, and Northridge ended up collecting two points on the ensuing fast break. Tied at 74, Hunter was the next hero for UCI, getting fouled on a drive to the basket and converting one of the two free throws. This set up Folker’s big play and a few free throws that iced the game for UCI. Mark Hill of CSUN had a 3-point attempt to potentially tie the game at 77, but missed. Fittingly, Moore collected the rebound.
“We’ve had a lot of close games,” Douglass said. “This team has lacked the scoring punch, so we’ve had to play with heart. I was really proud of our effort.”
Despite the game essentially being a fight for 8th place in the Big West, students charged the court after the win, mobbing and jumping with a pumped up ’Eaters team.
“It was our best effort defensively [on the season],” Hunter said. “I definitely feel like we have the momentum going into UCSB and Cal Poly, so hopefully we can get those two and be ready for the tournament.”