Anteaters Relevant in Big West

Peter Huynh/New University

For the first time in six years, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team swept their northern California road trip after winning 70-55 against the UC Davis Aggies on Jan. 7, handing Davis their 11th straight loss. The second consecutive win gave the Anteaters a 3-1 Big West record and improved their overall record to 6-10.

Junior Mike Wilder and sophomore Chris McNealy were vital for the Anteaters. Wilder posted a team-high 20 points on 7 for 11 shooting while McNealy tallied 17. With this win, the Anteaters positioned themselves behind only Long Beach State (3-0) and UCSB (2-0) in the Big West standings.

The Anteaters controlled the game from the get-go. After falling behind 4-2 in the opening minutes, Irvine went on a 14-1 run and put Davis in a deep hole. The Anteaters shot 6 of 13 from the 3-point arc, 11 for 25 from the field, and had nine assists with only four turnovers. Offensively, the Anteaters were very efficient and executed well in nearly every aspect. McNealy was the star in the first half as he nearly had a double-double, shooting 5 for 7 from the field, 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, and totaling 14 points to go along  with seven rebounds.

The Anteater defense took control of the second half, as they limited Davis to 24 points and allowed the Aggies’ leading scorers to combine for only 12 points. They held the Aggies to 37 percent shooting and surrendered five 3-point baskets in the game.

Junior Adam Folker had three big baskets in the second half, scoring all of his six points in the second half to compliment his nine rebounds. Folker’s presence in the paint frustrated the Aggies to settle for outside shots. Junior Derrick Flowers had a solid second half as well, scoring nine points on two for four shooting and making five for sevem from the free-throw line. Wilder scored 11 of his 20 points in the second half as well.

“I’m really pleased with the defensive effort we gave in the second half. That’s what we been focused on since the beginning,” said Coach Russell Turner. “I’m really happy with the progress of these young players. We had a bunch of players step up tonight. We’re playing together and I think our players believe.”

UCI 73, UoP 69

After a hard-fought loss to a strong Long Beach State team, the Anteaters journeyed north and stole a victory from the University of Pacific Tigers in another tough Big West matchup. Irvine trailed Pacific for the majority of the game, but the ’Eaters battled back in an impressive 73-69 comeback effort on the road. Mike Wilder had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Adam Folker added 13 points and 12 rebounds  to improve the Anteaters to 2-1 in conference play.

The Anteaters trailed the entire first half, but they kept the game close thanks in part to their sharp shooting from beyond the arc. As a team, the Anteaters went 9 for 16 from the 3-point arc. Junior Mike Wilder opened the game going 3 for 3 from long range, scoring Irvine’s first nine points, ultimately finishing 4 for 5 from the 3 point arc by the half.

The Anteaters also got a big spark from the outstanding bench play of freshmen Colin Woods and Mike Best. Woods scored nine points on 3 for 3 shooting from beyond the arc and really went after the ball defensively. Best notched 11 first half points, including one 3-point basket, and he helped the Anteaters spread the floor. Junior Derrick Flowers continued his sensational play. Although he only scored three first-half points, he ran the point guard position to near perfection, tallying six assists to go along zero turnovers.

The second half belonged to the play of junior Adam Folker. After being dominated by Pacific’s physicality on the offensive and defensive glass in the first half, Folker came out and set the tone physically for Irvine. He registered nine of his 13 points in the second half, including a couple huge buckets down the stretch and a clutch free throw to preserve the Anteater victory. He also contributed with seven second-half rebounds and helped control the glass for Irvine, who outrebounded the Tigers 26-18 in last 20 minutes.

After Pacific jumped ahead to a 66-61 lead, Irvine responded on a 7-0 run and never looked back. With 11 seconds to go, the game was sealed with two clutch Derrick Flowers’ free throws. The Anteaters shut down Pacific in the final three minutes of the game, holding them to only three points. Irvine’s stingy defense also held Pacific scoreless in the final minute of the game.

“I’m pleased and impressed with my team’s performance, especially in the second half,” said Turner. “I don’t feel we played our best basketball, and we were still able to win. That’s how you learn to be good. We’re nothing but a team trying to grow together and get better. We don’t play well all the time, but we’re always fighting.”

LBSU 74, UCI 60

It was a tale of two halves for the Anteaters on Monday, as the UC Irvine men’s basketball team suffered their first loss in Big West play to conference favorites, Long Beach State 74-60. Fresh off a victory against the Cal State Northridge Matadors, the Anteaters hosted Long Beach State in another “Black & Blue” rivalry game in hopes of upsetting the ’49ers, who earlier in the season collected wins against nationally-ranked Pittsburgh and Xavier. In the end, Long Beach’s size and experience fared too much for the young Anteater team.

Derrick Flowers continued his hot shooting, scoring a team-high 16 points for the Anteaters hitting on 4 of 7 from beyond the arc. Daman Starring and Chris McNealy notched 13 and 12 points respectively, while Will Davis II contributed seven points off the Anteater bench. Adam Folker had a frustrating night for the Anteaters, getting into early foul trouble and going 0 for 6 from the field, blowing a few easy shots under the basket.

The Anteaters controlled the majority of the first half. Although undersized physically, Irvine commanded the glass and outrebounded Long Beach State, allowing them to get in front and push the tempo for easy baskets. Offensively, the Anteaters did an excellent job attacking inside, scoring 18 of their 32 points in the paint. The Anteaters also limited Long Beach points off turnovers. The momentum changed towards the end of the first half when the Anteaters took their largest lead of the game after a Mike Wilder steal and layup put the Anteaters up six. Long Beach coach Dan Monson immediately called a timeout, irate with his team’s lackadaisical play. After that time-out, Long Beach State would outscore the Anteaters 14-9 and cut the lead down to one at halftime.

Long Beach continued the second half just as they left off in the first half, opening up with a 9-2 run. Credit the Long Beach defense for blanketing the Anteaters in the second half and breaking the game open by capitalizing off Anteater turnovers and turning them into break-away dunks.

“They can quickly turn turnovers into points,” said Coach Turner. “They are always a threat offensively with their defense.”

Long Beach was able to score 20 points off of 18 Anteaters turnovers and took advantage of the Anteaters’ inexperience and size down the stretch. In the end, the Anteaters were not able to counter Long Beach’s superb shooting and interior play in the second half.