The Bren Events Center’s new state-of-the-art scoreboard stole the show at Saturday’s UC Irvine and Weber State men’s basketball game. For the Antourage, everything on the scoreboard was captivating except for the final score of 80-72 in favor of the Big Sky Conference favorites, Weber State.
If you didn’t make it out this past weekend, the Anteaters return home on Dec. 3 to face the University of San Diego Toreros.
Although it’s rare forthe Bren to be filled to capacity, even for Homecoming games, the place has the potential to seat 5,000 fans and is absolutely pristine.
January is the 25th anniversary of the Bren’s existence. The scoreboard has modernized the arena; it’s just as impressive as the board displayed at the Honda Center. A four-sided video board now provides a live streaming video to fans, while flashing animations such as “Zot! Zot! Zot!” after the ’Eaters nail a free throw or “Nice Play!” after Mike Best swats an opposing player’s shot with emphasis.
Fans are now in the loop. Those in attendance can now view player profiles while an Anteater is at the free-throw line and they can track the statistics of all 10 players on the court, staying alert throughout the game. Daman Starring, for instance, was in foul trouble on Saturday evening and the Antourage seemed well aware that with five fouls, his 21-point — UCI career-high — evening was over.
The next step: We have a former NBA assistant coach now manning the UCI bench in his second season (Russell Turner) and young talent is signing with the program left and right. Despite the team’s 0-3 start, the men’s basketball team is on the rise and so is UCI Athletics in general.
But along with this new tradition being built daily on the hardwood, I can’t help but notice that the Bren could use one final touch to make fans feel at home. How about a mural on the west side of the Bren that could surround the national championship banners?
Paint a larger-than-life-sized portrait of now NBA coach and former Anteater Scott Brooks elevating for a jumper. The man christened the stadium 25 years ago with a 43-point outburst against Utah State.
Also consider placing a men’s volleyball player on the wall. UCI has won two men’s volleyball national championships within the past decade. Women’s soccer player Natalia Ledezma didn’t even know that and she’s an athlete, what does that say about the rest of the student population?
A winning tradition is in construction at UCI and what better way to engage fans and inspire players than to create a mural? Imagine Turner getting in freshman forward Will Davis’ face and telling him, “Will, with four outstanding years at UCI, you could forever be immortalized at this university. You could start a precedent. You could help put this team in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, but you have to focus and you have to work hard.” Hell, that’s motivation.
There’s no one player past or present about whom one could say, “Now that, my friends, was a damn good Anteater — maybe the best.”
“Who’s that Dad?”
(Dad Google’s “Carson Clark” on his iPhone.) “Oh, that’s Carson Clark, son, he was an All-American multiple times and he helped UCI win a national championship.”
Whether it’s a freshman coming to his or her first basketball game or a six-year-old child attending with his youth basketball team, seeing a mural of players would inspire thought, it would inspire research and would brand the UCI Athletics image into attendees’ memories.
Now, let’s talk about the game: Keep in mind, Weber State had a winning record last season and with their star player — Damian Lillard — back after missing last season, they’re no walk in the park. Lillard scored 27 points and Weber’s offense completely revolved around his and Scott Bamforth’s (18 points) production.
The nine-point loss didn’t reflect the Anteaters’ impressive effort. Irvine hung with Weber State from the field and from beyond the arc, posting almost identical shooting statistics. WSU made 23-59 field goal attempts, while UCI shot 21-59. And from three-point range, both teams shot 8-22.
UCI led 59-57 with 5:44 left in the game, but down the stretch a disparity in free-throw percentage between the two teams began to take a toll. Lillard hit all eight of his free throws. When your team’s starters make just 58 percent of their free-throw attempts, it’s never a good sign.
The starting five was 14-24 at the line.
C Adam Folker — 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist in 17 minutes.
PF Mike Wilder — 9 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in 29 minutes.
SF Chris McNealy — 7 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block in 27 minutes.
SG Daman Starring — 21 points, 2 assists, and 1 rebound in 30 minutes.
PG Aaron Wright — 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists in 27 minutes.
“Shooting” Starring — Daman was feeling it on Saturday evening. Although he struggled when driving to the basket, Starring nailed three of six from downtown. Without his shooter’s touch, Weber would’ve pulled away early.
Flowers Blooming — The junior point guard scored nine points in the loss, but didn’t miss a shot the entire evening. He was 6-6 from the charity stripe and 1-1 from the field. After scoring six points in the first two games, Flowers’ nine were tied for second best on the team against Weber State, which was likely his best college game to date.
Best Game Yet: I’ve been razzing freshman Mike Best all season for his scrawny frame that doesn’t match his height or his position, but against Weber State, Best had four blocks, four points and four rebounds in 13 minutes. Well done.
Madam I’m Adam — Folker’s rust showed a bit against Weber State, missing all four of his free-throw attempts, which should be his strength after wearing street clothes at practice for months. After totaling eight points and nine rebounds against San Jose State last week, Folker should regain his form at the Great Alaska Shootout.
Gobble, gobble: Thanksgiving is great for turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and family. The Anteaters are going to have to make do without their biological families this Thanksgiving, but will rely on each other over the holiday break while playing in the Great Alaska Shootout.
UCI will face Southern Mississippi on Thursday and could meet up with Murray State, Alaska Anchorage, Dartmouth, San Francisco, Central Michigan or New Mexico State on Nov. 25 and 26.
After the games, hopefully Papa Turner will pass the gravy at a team dinner. Give these athletes credit. They sacrifice family time, while most students are taking a breather and preparing for finals.
It’s not easy starting 0-3 and being away from family, but with the schedule lightening up a tad for a couple of weeks before the team travels to LSU, Irvine might be thankful for some wins this weekend.
Bigger West: I’d like to recognize Long Beach State for handing No. 9 Pittsburgh a loss on Nov. 16, snapping Pitt’s 59 game non-conference win streak. Long Beach’s 86-76 win was huge for a Big West school. Love them or hate them, they took down a top ten team.
On any day of the week, upsets are possible in college basketball. With LSU and UCLA on the horizon for UCI, Turner should be showing his team footage of Long Beach’s victory at Pitt. After all, Irvine spanked that same Beach last season. The score — 86-76.