Scoring Woes Cost Irvine Two

Marlon Castillo/New University

UCSB 74, UCI 56

The Anteaters had another abysmal shooting night on Saturday, as they dropped their second consecutive game to the UCSB Gauchos, 74-56. It was the Anteaters’ first conference loss on the road. After beginning conference play 3-1, Irvine is now 3-3. They will begin a five-game homestand next Saturday and hope to improve their record.

The Anteaters were led by freshman Travis Souza in scoring, who hit 5 of 7 3-pointers and totaled 15 points. Junior Mike Wilder contributed 11 points and freshman Mike Best added 7 points off the bench.

Irvine came out with a lot of energy to start the game as Wilder netted his first two shots from 3-point range. After an Anteater steal, Wilder put the Anteaters up 8-5 with a fast-break layup. This would be the last time the Anteaters would see a lead in the game. Minutes later the Gauchos would go on a 10-0 run and take the lead for good. Irvine would trail by double digits for the majority of the first until later in the half when an Anteater run put the game in striking distance, as they cut the lead to 38-29. Despite shooting 9 for 30 from the field and committing 11 turnovers in the first half, the Anteaters put themselves in a good position to steal this game on the road.

The second half of the game looked a lot like the second half of Thursday’s Cal Poly game. After exchanging baskets to close the score 40-31, Santa Barbara blew the game open with an 11-0 run that put them up 51-31. The Anteater deficit would grow to 70-48, and they would never come any closer than 15 points. With such a large discrepancy in points, Coach Russell Turner substituted all five UCI freshman into the game. It was the first time this season Irvine played an all-freshman lineup on the court.

“They did ok,” said Coach Turner. “I thought the level they played was higher than the players I put them in the game for. I want to make sure our team competes at a higher level than what we’ve done to start the second half of both of our last two games.I’m surprised that the level of play for us was not higher than it was to start the second half in this game, after we had a nice run to cut the score from 14 to 9. We didn’t show enough urgency. We are all accountable for that.”

For the second straight game, UC Irvine had a rough night offensively. They turned the ball over 21 times and shot 33 percent from the field. The Anteaters, who rely heavily on 3-point shooting, shot a disappointing 30 percent from that distance. The two-game skid, however, has to do with a lot more than offense, explains Turner.

“We got to get that underdog mentality back,” he said. “That’s exactly who we are. If we ever think differently, we’re foolish. I feel like we’ve been less than what we can be, but I don’t ever want that to become a habit.”

The Anteaters are 3-3 and remain in the thick of things in the Big West, an encouraging sign for a team that was picked to finish last in the conference. We have seen the potential this team has when it plays well. A lot of their problems, such as turnovers and bad shooting, have to do with their youth and inexperience. Expect the Anteaters to come out stronger next Saturday versus Cal State Fullerton.

Cal Poly SLO 66, UCI 50

The fans filed into the Bren on Thursday where they watched their Anteaters win streak come to an end after being defeated 66-50 by the visiting Cal Poly Mustangs. Junior guard, Daman Starring, led the ’Eaters in scoring with 15 points and freshman, Will Davis II, chipped in 13 points off the bench. Thursday’s loss marked only the second loss in the last six games. The Anteaters are now sitting on a 3-2 conference record and will travel on Saturday to face a tough UC Santa Barbara (2-1) team.

It was a neck-and-neck first half, as both teams responded to each other’s efforts. The first half consisted of four lead changes and ended in a 24-24 deadlock. From the get-go it was going to be a defensive struggle for the Anteaters who had the challenge of going against the Big West’s best scoring offense. The Mustangs, who are also ranked 10th nationally in scoring defense, forced the ’Eaters into taking tough shots and held Irvine to 10 of 27 shooting.

Defensively, the Mustangs did a nice job limiting transition opportunities for the Anteaters, who usually thrive in fast-break situations, and forced them to play a half-court game offensively. As a team, the Anteaters struggled to shoot from the perimeter. Irvine, relying heavily on their 3-point shooting, was not able to get it going in the first half. They shot 3 of 10 from beyond the arc and went 6 for 23 in the game.

The second half proved to be too much for the Anteaters as the Mustangs stormed out the gates on an 11-5 run. When the Anteaters responded, the Mustangs were there to counter. Irvine had its chances though. With 12:17 in the second half, it looked like the momentum would shift after freshman Mike Best connected with fellow freshman Will Davis II for a monstrous alley-oop dunk that cut the lead to five. The crowd came to life and the Anteaters prevented Poly from scoring in the ensuing possession.

After the Anteaters controlled the ball, Cal Poly stole the ball from junior Derrick Flowers and were fouled on the fast break attempt. The momentum was lost as the Poly guard went to the line and sunk both free throws. Irvine would cut the lead to five three more times down the stretch. With nine minutes left, Irvine got the score to 46-41, but Poly’s stingy defense held Irvine scoreless for the next six minutes and finished the game on a 20-7 run.

Cal Poly’s strength overwhelmed the Anteaters as the Mustang front court combined for 43 points and 24 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds that led to 14 second chance points for the game.  After the game, Coach Russell Turner expressed his disappointment.

“They [Cal Poly] were physically strong, mentally strong and imposed their will on us, which was disappointing. They were the aggressors, especially in the second half when they made the plays and we didn’t make enough of them.”