Anteaters Top Mustang
By Marvin Luu
In a game where UCI senior guard Travis Souza scored a career-high 17 points on 5-8 three-point shooting, the Anteaters (12-8, 5-1) managed to pick up their fifth straight victory, 67-57, over the Cal Poly Mustangs (10-9, 3-4) at the Bren Events Center on Thursday night. The win was extra memorable given the fact that the ‘Eaters had dropped their last meeting against the Mustangs in a heartbreaking 61-58 defeat in a semifinal game that had eliminated UCI from the Big West Tournament last March. With the win, the ‘Eaters remain in a three-way tie for first place in the conference with UC Davis (15-4, 5-1) and Long Beach State (11-11, 5-1).
The victory came with the collective efforts of the ‘Eaters as they managed to spread the ball around and clean the boards. By the end of the game, UCI had managed to collectively grab 39 rebounds and dish out 17 assists, while holding the Mustangs to only 28 rebounds and seven assists. Senior forward Will Davis II had another solid game as he managed to put up 14 points on 7-13 shooting, while sophomore guard Luke Nelson compensated for his poor shooting by dishing out eight assists, tying his career high.
UCI began the game strong by putting up 12 straight points that would extend to a 20-8 point run by the 10:42 minute mark of the first half. Souza contributed nine of his 17 points within the half, while Davis II recorded two blocks and did a great job of protecting the paint. Although the Mustangs began to trade a few baskets with the ‘Eaters, UCI would not give up the lead for the rest of the quarter. The half closed with the ‘Eaters up by nine, 34-25. Coach Russell Turner believed that UCI’s defense had provided the nice lead.
“I think (that) runs are created defensively and I thought that we really tightened up our defense when we had to and that was the key to the win,” Coach Turner said.
Despite a great effort in the first half, the ‘Eaters came out of the second half cold, allowing the Mustangs to put up seven unanswered points before coach Turner called a timeout to stop the run.
“I thought we came out with less focus and energy to start the second half than what I expect, “but we regained it and (we) were able to stretch the lead against a Cal Poly team that we respect,” Coach Turner said.
Davis II would emerge as a primary scorer for the ‘Eaters, posting up eight straight points to keep a three point lead over Cal Poly with 12:22 left in the game. He would go on to score 12 of his 14 points in the second half, shaking off his cold offensive start.
“I thought that Will Davis (II) asserted himself in the second half and our team recognized that and we made a lot of extra passes,” said Coach Turner. “We can get good shots in the interior.”
Although the Mustangs would manage to bring the game down to a one-point deficit on two separate occasions, Souza found the hot hand again and continued his shooting onslaught that helped stretch the lead back to 10. Eventually the ‘Eaters managed to pull away with a 61-45 lead with only 4:05 left to go. With 35 seconds left in the half, Souza sealed his career night with two free throws to put away the Mustangs, 67-57.
“We got a good streak going,” said Souza. “We lost to Long Beach in the first game of the conference and that kind of made us realize that we got to work (because) its not just going to be given to us.”
Having won five straight games, the ‘Eaters will be back at the Bren Events Center on Saturday evening where they will face UC Santa Barbara in a highly anticipated homecoming game matchup.