With 12 minutes left in the second half of Thursday night’s game against the Cal Poly Mustangs, the UC Irvine Anteaters seized momentum from Cal Poly and pushed the lead to 51-44. After sophomore guard Mike Wilder nailed a free throw to extend the Anteaters’ advantage to seven points, the Mustangs’ size kicked in and wore down the diminutive ’Eaters.
Darren Moore led UCI with 19 points, while senior guard Patrick Rembert added another 18, but the Mustangs’ inside presence and the lack thereof for the ’Eaters proved to be the difference in the 80-71 UCI defeat.
The Mustangs out-rebounded the Anteaters 38 to 32, but the most glaring stat was Cal Poly’s 12 offensive rebounds to UCI’s five. Irvine’s rebound disparity was due to the fact that Eric Wise’s hamstring continues to plague him. Another factor was attributed to Pavol Losonsky being the only UCI player over 6-foot-3-inches on the court for most of the game.
Losonsky, who scored 11 points and nabbed seven rebounds, made a living on the perimeter instead of making his presence felt in the post.
After the ’Eaters pushed the lead to seven points, the Mustangs made a run of their own and overtook the lead at 53-52 with nine minutes to play. Looking to push the tempo and force the Mustangs into turnovers, Head Coach Russell Turner substituted Emil Kim for Losonsky for a five-guard lineup. On offense, the change of pace seemed to work but on defense, the Anteaters struggled to force a stop.
“We have gotten worse defensively,” Turner said. “Whether we played man or zone [defense] we allowed them to get to the rim, the paint and the basket.”
UCI leads the Big West in offense, averaging 76 points per game, but it has been the Anteaters’ defense that has presented problems.
After cutting an eight-point deficit to one at halftime, the ’Eaters allowed the Mustangs to shoot 53 percent in the last 20 minutes of the game. UCI’s interior defense struggled mightily as Cal Poly scored 34 points in the paint. The Anteaters forced just seven Mustang turnovers, while they turned the ball over 11 times, resulting in 20 Cal Poly points.
With the loss, the Anteaters extend their losing streak to five games.
UCI 66 UCSB 63
With 30 seconds left in the game, the UCI Anteaters risked everything.
The ’Eaters built a 10-point lead with two minutes left in the game, only to watch it slip away in the final minute. As the second half came to a close, senior guard Patrick Rembert drew a foul but missed the front end of a one-and-one that would have put the Anteaters up by four.
With 30 seconds left in regulation, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos had three chances to tie the game, including one last heave from Orlando Johnson, the 2010 Big West Player of the Year. Despite not being able to corral a loose ball or snag a defensive rebound when the game was on the line, the ’Eaters escaped with a 66-63 victory.
“[This win] was very important for us, our backs were against the wall,” senior Darren Moore said.
The Anteaters ended a five-game skid due in large part to the performances of three seniors. Pavol Losonsky totaled 13 points and nailed a crucial 3-pointer in the second half. Moore tallied 21 points, nine boards and brought the Antourage and ’Eater Nation to their feet when he took a nice Patrick Rembert pass and dunked emphatically, extending UCI’s lead to 10 points with less than two minutes remaining.
But the performance that was key for an Anteater victory belonged to Rembert, who narrowly missed a triple-double with 16 points, nine boards and nine assists.
“[Rembert] played like a team leader,” Head Coach Russell Turner said. “He was not single-minded in attacking. I thought he attacked to get other players the ball.”
After having a defensive lapse against the Mustangs, the Anteaters did not allow the Gauchos to get comfortable on the offensive end. The ’Eaters held UCSB to a 37 percent shooting from the field for the game and forced 13 Gaucho turnovers.
“We prevented Santa Barbara from getting paint points,” Turner said. “That’s what we have to be committed to. Tonight we were more committed and we did that as a team.”
Before the ’Eaters close out the home portion of their regular season schedule, the Anteaters must travel to Pacific on Feb. 16 and then to Nevada on Feb. 19.