DEFEND: Notes from a 9-0 Big West season at the Bren, and a plea for UCI to recognize its biggest, passionate fan.
It’s been four up and down years covering UC Irvine men’s basketball, but Saturday night at the Bren was something special. It was Senior Night for center Adam Folker, forward Mike Wilder, shooting guard Daman Starring and point guard Derick Flowers, but it was also senior night for every student graduating in June.
For every person who has ridden the roller coaster from the end of the Pat Douglass era to the two transitional years under Coach Russell Turner, to finally win a game that truly mattered, not just a game in January tagged as Homecoming that’s artificially perceived as special, but a game that had true playoff implications, was gratifying. But (and this is a big but) … let’s get greedy. The win over Long Beach wasn’t enough.
After defeating Long Beach State for the first time since 2011, narrowly escaping without going to overtime, a court storming and a #FolkerSystem foul out, here are nine notes on the undefeated Bren defenders.
Keep your cool: With less than three minutes left on the clock, UCI turned the ball over to Long Beach forward James Ennis, who threw down a disgusting dunk, nearly banging his knees on the back of the glass after pulling himself up on the rim. Tied 63-63, UCI hadn’t trailed since 15-14 in the first half. Instead of buckling after a costly turnover, the Anteaters kept their cool.
When Adam Folker was ejected with his fifth personal foul on a questionable aka bullshit call, Folker protested and Coach Turner turned completely red in the face with clenched fists before composing himself. Had he or Folker said a magic word or pushed one of the referees’ buttons, a technical foul could have significantly altered the game in Long Beach’s favor. Props to Folker and Turner for containing themselves.
With a five-point lead and less than 30 seconds remaining, sophomore Travis Souza threw a pass directly to a Long Beach State defender. Sophomore Mike Caffey then drained a three-pointer for Long Beach to close the gap to two. Here we go again. But Souza then inbounded to Wilder, who was immediately fouled. Having an off year at the charity stripe, making just 49 percent of his tosses all season, Wilder stepped up to the line with a smile on his face, blew out a big ball of air and hit two of the biggest free throws of his career. Icing the contest, Wilder’s free throws were the difference in a 72-69 win.
Free throws win games: Early in the season, the Anteaters struggled from the free throw line. With the game tied at UCLA in November, Will Davis II missed two straight attempts at the line in a tied ballgame, sending the game to overtime rather than sending the Anteaters home with a win. In the closing minute of regulation on Saturday night, like Wilder, Davis hit both of his free-throw attempts. In fact, the Anteaters were 15-18 from the line, compared to Long Beach’s 6-12 performance. Clutch.
Third loss for LB: Saturday night’s loss for Long Beach was just their third all season in conference. UC Irvine, in comparison, has lost six conference games this season. Now both the Anteaters and 49ers have 17 wins this season. Last year, UCI had 12. With two regular season games remaining and a chance for a couple more in the Big West Tournament, a 20-win season is not out of the question for UCI. Long Beach’s other two losses in conference came at Hawaii and at Cal Poly.
Road tripping: Earth to Antourage, home court advantage is nice, but when your team has no fan support on the road, that’s a problem. The Anteaters are an embarrassing 1-6 on the road in 2013. A court storming was cute, but all of the #DefendTheBren hype is futile if Irvine can’t win when it counts — at the Honda Center. Before we get cocky, remember that the team UCI just beat — Long Beach State — went undefeated at home this year too. Irvine has still never reached the NCAA Tournament, and likely won’t without an Antourage presence at the Big West Tournament from March 14-16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Do I smell #DefendTheHonda? Plan ahead, get off your ass and don’t miss Irvine’s best chance in years to finally cut the nets down and advance to March Madness.
Donald Bren is a smart man: Sitting with a former New University editor-in-chief and sports editor at the game on Saturday night, we were chuckling over how much publicity Donald Bren’s name has received with the athletic department’s #DefendTheBren campaign this year. I wonder if Mr. Bren ever expected to become a social media trend.
You crazy, Will Davis: Sophomore forward Will Davis II had already broken his own single-season school blocks record and won’t stop embellishing. Davis is shattering his own school record, adding eight more rejections on Saturday night. Last season, Davis had 55 blocks as a freshman. His total now stands at 73, or 2.5 per game. Sophomore slump, my ass.
Senior Night start: Point guard Derick Flowers started in place of freshman Alex Young for the first time in conference this season. After his mother and sister accompanied him at half-court in the pregame Senior Night celebration, Flowers played 13 minutes, totaling five points, three rebounds and two assists. Flowers scored the first two points of the game, his rebounds were timely and kept possessions alive, and his energy was contagious. But one of the best moments of the night was seeing Flowers and buddy Mike Wilder jump up to chest-bump in the pregame player announcements. It’s tough to swallow that Folker, Starring, Wilder and Flowers will never suit up in the Bren again.
Super Fan: This has nothing to do with UCI basketball, but should have everything to do with UC Irvine athletics. Super Fan, the UCI baseball team’s number one fan, lost his mother last Tuesday. Keith Franklin, known by many as Super Fan, is the heart and soul of the Anteaters at Cicerone Field.
Tim Thurman, father of UCI ace Andrew Thurman went even further to say that “Super Fan is UCI baseball,” and that it’s a shame that he isn’t recognized by the athletic department for his dedication to the baseball team.
A man who has struggled with drug addiction in the past, Franklin could use the support of fans when he returns to his paradise to scream, “Rip ’Em!” followed by “’Eaters!” Franklin is a character in a bland world that needs more characters. I often joke about him looking like a rocker or a Neanderthal, but it’s always been out of fun. The energy he brings and the passion he has for UCI baseball is infectious and inspiring. The fact that there aren’t Super Fan t-shirts, or that the athletic department routinely neglects to mention him from a political standpoint, unwilling to put their necks out and support an ex-drug user, is cowardly and disappointing.
The routine, “That’s not how we do things around here” line shouldn’t apply to Franklin, who is not just the biggest UCI fan in history, but a man who brings entertainment to the ballpark. The thought of seeing Keith Franklin at another ballpark, no longer at UCI or God forbid using drugs again, is absolutely depressing. And if there’s one tradition that I hope continues on for decades after my graduation in June, it’s the legacy of Super Fan at Cicerone Field.