One, Two, Three — Family!
Louisiana Tech 76, UCI 72
The Anteaters took two of three games in this past weekend’s Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament at the Bren. In the series finale, UCI ran out of steam in the second half, losing by four to Louisiana Tech.
Senior Darren Moore established himself as a leader, scoring 26 on Sunday, 18 on Saturday and 19 on Friday. Against Louisiana Tech, Moore also brought down six rebounds and had five assists.
Leading by four at the half, the undermanned ’Eaters who had played without junior standout Eric Wise and lacked contributions from big men throughout the weekend, weren’t able to pull off the sweep.
Seattle 77, UCI 85
An 8-point UCI win was much closer than the score reflected. Trading blows in the first half, Seattle and Irvine entered halftime tied at 37. With Wise in street clothes and senior big man Pavol Losonsky in foul trouble early, the Anteaters once again called upon their guards and small forwards to play as if they were five inches taller.
With two minutes left in the game, sophomore Daman Starring picked the pocket of his Seattle defender, drove to the basket and finished a timely layup that pushed the team’s lead to three. Up by one point with 1 minute, 8 seconds remaining, Coach Russell Turner took a timeout to draw up the game plan.
Coming off of the timeout, Irvine worked it around the perimeter to Starring. Starring kicked it to senior guard Patrick Rembert on the right wing who sank a clutch three. Extending the lead, Irvine shut the door on the away team’s attempt at a comeback. Seattle proceeded to trade fouls for possessions as Rembert converted four foul shots in the final minute.
Rembert scored a career-high 21 points, brought down five rebounds, handed out three assists and was a perfect 7 for 7 at the charity stripe.
“We hit big threes, got to the free-throw line and knocked down our open shots tonight,” Rembert said.
Senior Darren Moore notched his second straight double-double, accumulating 18 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Mike Wilder played all but three minutes, sliding to power forward at times when the team played small. He scored 11 points and recorded eight rebounds. Losonsky was invisible the entire night, committing three fouls in the first half and scoring his two points with just six seconds left in the game.
When speaking of playing with five guards under 6 feet 4 inches on the floor at the same time, Rembert said, “It comes with wanting to win. We do whatever coach needs us to do to win.”
After the game, the team erupted in the locker room when being accompanied by Turner’s former Golden State Warriors players Stephen Curry, Andris Biedrins and Reggie Williams. The rowdy bunch came together with professional basketball players on hand as Turner shouted “Family on three! One-two-three!” and the team responded, “Family!”
Curry, who sat courtside, was fortunate to see his former coach secure a victory.
“They played hard,” Curry said. “They made some huge shots down the stretch and number 10 (Rembert) was impressive tonight.”
Navy 60, UCI 75
Turner stood on the sidelines on Friday night as the final seconds drained off of the clock. When the ticker hit double-zero, it marked the rookie head coach’s first win with UCI — a 75-60 regular season victory after leading 33-17 at half.
He exhaled after the game and upon being asked if it was a relief to get his first win out of the way, Turner responded, “Oh hell yeah. We didn’t just lose our first two games [Illinois and USC], we lost our last exhibition game too [Concordia]. It had been a while since we’d won.”
The 15-point win wasn’t as easy as it looked. Forced to play undersized, the Anteaters started Wise, but the 6-foot-6-inch forward gingerly worked his way down the court in the first half. Stricken with a nagging groin and lower back injury, Wise did his best to contribute, scoring six points and securing two rebounds. But with 15 minutes, 11 seconds left in the second half, he removed the bandage that was wrapped around his back and became an observer.
“The thing that I’m most proud of with my team is I felt that every guy gave a great effort,” Turner said.
With Wise on the bench, senior Peter Simek battling an illness and Losonsky completely held in check, Turner featured a lineup of Moore (6’3”), Rembert (6’), Wilder (6’2”), Chris McNealy (6’3”) and Emil Kim (6’5”) at times, challenging guards Moore and Wilder to enter the paint and secure rebounds to make up for the team’s lack of size.
Moore answered the call, recording 11 rebounds in the first half and tying a career-high of 12 in the game. After struggling to hit jump shots in the first two losses, Moore slashed his way to the basket and looked as if he had a vendetta throughout the night.
“Coach told us that the guards needed to rebound to enable us to win before the game,” Moore said. “He got in my face at practice and I took it personal. I went up and got every rebound I could.”
Equally impressive were Wilder and McNealy who played 21 minutes apiece. It’s not often that a 6-foot-2-inch player is slotted into the power forward position, but Wilder seized the opportunity and held his own defensively. Wilder struggled to find his shot in the first two contests, but emerged over the weekend. Against Navy, Wilder came off the bench, scoring 10 points and pulling down seven rebounds.
“I realized after my second game that I had to be more aggressive,” Wilder said of his shot selection.
McNealy has emerged as a polished rebounder, a quality crucial to a team that was out-worked and out-rebounded last season. The freshman had six rebounds, two on the offensive end, and scored eight points.
Rembert was a workhorse. He played a team-high 32 minutes, scoring 19 points and picking up six rebounds. Taking over a team that was captained by guard Michael Hunter last year, Rembert has pushed the pace of games, exemplifying his impressive conditioning.
After the victory, the team quickly turned their attention to Saturday night’s game against Seattle, but enjoyed their first win while they could.
“It feels amazing to get that first win. I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight,” Wilder said.