Antourage Insider: Some True Anteater Grit

The Anteaters’ season was on the line this week, and UC Irvine came through in a most triumphant and spectacular manner. Greatly aided by the return of star forward Eric Wise, UCI managed to clinch a spot in the Big West Tournament by beating both UC Davis and Pacific, teams they had lost to on the road earlier this season.

A double dose of double overtime… the ’Eaters showed some impressive endurance skills this week, and more importantly, the ability to prevail in close games. In each game, the team should have won both in regulation and after the first overtime, and in both games, the team refused to quit and put up emphatic finishing efforts in the second OT. This bodes well for team morale, confidence and the general ability to play a lot of basketball in a short amount of time. Two double overtime games in the course of three days isn’t quite three games in three days, but it’s a good precursor.

Team victories with different players stepping up each day — UCI’s spirit in a nutshell. For Thursday’s win against Davis, it was senior Pavol Losonsky shining with a career high of 20 points. On Saturday, sophomore guard Daman Starring, who had been quiet of late, was the one to save the day with 15 points on 3-4 3-point shooting and seven rebounds, none more crucial than a hustle offensive board with 30 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 71. Wise had just missed a jumper and Pacific’s big man seemingly had the ball corralled when Starring burst into the picture, getting the rebound and drawing the foul going up for the put-back layup. Showing nerves of steel, he drained all four free throws that followed. Good to see Daman finally “starring” for UCI.

Other elements involved in the team effort: Darren Moore and, to a lesser extent, Patrick Rembert’s willingness to drive relentlessly, sacrificing their body every time, especially in the waning stages of the game. Moore should also be commended for his tight defense and quick hands resulting in steals.

In the end though, UCI’s hopes come down to Eric Wise. His impact was huge in both games this week, as he didn’t let any rust affect him so much that he couldn’t ensure UCI victories. His double-doubles on Thursday and Saturday were accompanied with three steals in each game. The man is truly a complete player.

Now, the team sits comfortably in sixth place with a 6-9 conference record, slated to play Pacific (8-6 conference record) in the first round as of print time. However, the last week of conference play will still change final seeds. Currently in seventh and eighth are UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton at 5-9, respectively. CSUF plays at Pacific and at UC Davis to end their schedule, while UCR takes on Long Beach State in addition to UCI.

If UCI beats UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara falls to Cal Poly in their regular season finale, UCI would have miraculously worked themselves into a tie for fifth place in the Big West. However, the Anteaters could still go down as low as 8th if they lose to UCR.

No matter what happens, UCI has now shown the ability to beat virtually any team in the Big West. Anything could happen in the Big West Tournament, especially if the ’Eaters keep up this hardnosed and gritty mentality.