Beach-Slapped by UCI
UCI 86, LBSU 76
As the assistant coach of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors last season, Russell Turner’s team averaged approximately 18,000 fans per contest. On Saturday night at the Bren Events Center, his Anteater team was surrounded by considerably less observers than in the NBA, but for UC Irvine, 4,070 warm bodies in a stadium is worth noting. The Anteaters responded to the crowd, taking down rival Long Beach State University 86-76.
Despite the fact that UCI athletics claimed that the crowd of 4,070 was the most populated the Bren has been for men’s basketball in four years, that title went to the Nov. 21, 2008 matchup at home against The University of Oregon (4,206 fans attended). Nevertheless, the rivalry matchup garnered 2,189 more spectators than UCI’s previous home game against Cal State Fullerton.
“It was the first time at home here that I’ve felt the crowd’s energy and they’ve helped will us to a win,” Turner said of the crowd that consisted of alumni, community members, students, Homecoming court supporters and basketball enthusiasts.
After leading a majority of the first-half, the Anteaters entered halftime trailing, 37-35.
With 11 minutes left in the game, 6-foot-tall Derick Flowers speedily led a fast break down the center of the court. As a larger defender threatened to send his attempt into the third row of seats, Flowers bounced the ball with authority between his legs, sensing Darren Moore trailing close behind. Moore elevated and finished strong as the crowd erupted. Prompting the 49ers to take a timeout, the highlight reel finish brought the stadium to their feet in a scene unfamiliar to UCI basketball in recent times.
With a 54-51 lead and a considerable amount of time left on the clock, the ’Eaters horsed around in celebration throughout the break as Turner extended his hands above his head in the middle of the court, raising the roof and the decibels in the building in each corner of the stadium.
“It probably looked stupid and I in no way wanted to show up Long Beach,” Turner said. “It feels like we need that around here to get these people excited.”
After the timeout, UCI regained possession and kicked it around the key. Sophomore guard Mike Wilder ended up with the ball from point-blank range under the basket and dished to senior center Peter Simek, who laid it up and in. Another defensive stand resulted in freshman Chris McNealy leading the break with numbers. Faking his intention to dish the ball to either of two teammates along the wings, McNealy soared through the key and floated a teardrop through the net. At 58-51, Long Beach once again called a timeout out of frustration.
With 5:40 left in the contest, Eric Wise was charged with his fourth personal foul on a questionable call. He slammed the ball down and was given a technical foul, which ushered his exit from the game. Having knocked down turnaround jumpers, layups and put-backs consistently throughout the night, Wise came up huge for the Anteaters against the 49ers, and his departure had the potential to cost Irvine the game.
“That was a tough call,” Turner said. “It’s hard to keep your emotions in check as a player sometimes. Eric’s working on that and that’s happened before this season. I think it’s an inappropriate rule for a technical foul to be called as a fifth personal foul (which result in ejection).”
Wise’s ejection allowed Wilder and Moore to shine. Tallying career-highs with 24 points and 13 rebounds, Wilder — a humble, Long Beach Wilson High School alum — knocked down several of his 10 (of 10) free throws in the closing minutes of the game.
“Nothing he does surprises me,” Turner said of Wilder’s performance, which also included three blocks and two assists.
Wilder made four of six from beyond the arc, while he and his teammates combined for 27 of 29 from the free throw line.
“I try to bring my best into every game,” Wilder said of the opportunity to play against his hometown. “I’ve got to try as hard as I can and that’s what I do every night.”
Darren Moore continued playing strong, totaling 21 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
“Moore was clutch tonight,” Turner said of his leading scorer and senior captain.
With 50 seconds left in the game, the 49ers dribbled down the left baseline. Moore stepped in front of an ill-advised pass and chucked it across the court to senior guard Patrick Rembert, who hit a layup that virtually sealed the victory.
The final scoreboard read 86-76 in favor of the Anteaters, as the crowd stormed the court.
The Anteaters will host the Matadors of Cal State Northridge on Jan. 27 before traveling to UC Davis on Jan. 29.
UCI 76, CSUB 73
Before the Homecoming theatrics, UCI traveled to Bakersfield on Jan. 19 and emerged with a narrow victory. Leading 33-32 at half, the Anteaters outscored the Roadrunners 43-41 in the second half, improving their record to 9-10 on the season. At the free throw line, Moore nailed four of four attempts, while Wise relied on the charity stripe throughout the night, knocking down nine of his 11 attempts. Moore and Wise scored 16 and 15 points respectively, while Rembert kicked in his contribution as the third ’Eater in double figures with 10 points and five assists.
After having his minutes limited in the early portions of the season, Wise struggled from the field, hitting just three of 11, but managed to tie his career-high of 13 rebounds in the team’s win. Flowers played for 10 minutes in the first half, providing a spark of seven points off the bench, a career-high for the Los Angeles native. UCI’s 76-73 win over Bakersfield ended a four-game road stretch in which they split, 2-2.