By Marvin Luu
It was not hard to spot the wide grin on UCI senior forward Will Davis II’s face, even behind the loud applause of 3,070 screaming fans in attendance during the closing minutes of Saturday night’s nine point, 67-58, victory over CSUN (7-22, 2-11). He had every reason to smile, having recorded two consecutive double-double performances over the course of two straight games against the Rainbow Warriors (18-11, 6-7) on Thursday and the Matadors on Saturday.
Davis II’s strong effort has resulted in a strong week for the UCI men’s basketball team (16-10, 9-3), as they stand in second place behind UC Davis (21-4, 11-1) in the Big West Conference.
UCI 75 Hawai’i 60
On Thursday night, senior forward Will Davis II dropped in his first double-double of the week with 23 points and 14 rebounds. Along with the senior forward’s dominant offensive outing, sophomore guard, Luke Nelson, and senior guard, Travis Souza, put up 13 points and 15 points respectively. Nelson took over the ball handling duties by dishing out eight assists to go along with his five rebounds and two steals. Souza tied his career-high in three-point shooting by draining five threes off of 5-7 shooting in the contest, four of which came during a huge second-half surge that would eventually seal the game. The win has marked UCI’s second victory over Hawai’i, as the ‘Eaters now hold a program record of 8-5 against the Rainbow Warriors.
With recently injured senior center John Ryan and junior guard Alex Young, sitting out of the game, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team (15-10, 8-3) came into the Bren short handed. The ‘Eaters had dropped their last game on the road against UC Riverside by 13 points and were 1-2 in the past three games prior to Thursday night’s matchup.
“We knew we needed to play better than we did in the last game,” coach Turner said. “We didn’t play to our expectations [and] we just really didn’t compete at a high level.”
In the first half, the Rainbow Warriors came out aggressively against the ‘Eaters, going on an early 9-2 run with Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic leading the way with six points that came off of two early threes. However, UCI quickly bounced back and continued trading buckets with major contributions from Davis II and sophomore center Ioannis Dimakopoulos, who had a few easy tip-ins and cleared some space for Nelson and Souza to operate around the perimeter.
“I thought that tonight Will [Davis II] and Ioannis [Dimakopoulos] both made some really big plays when we needed to go inside,” said Coach Turner. “Will was terrific. In this game he played the center position … and he really rose to the challenge that I presented him.”
Off the bench, sophomore guard Jaron Martin also did a great job of attacking the basket and putting pressure on Hawai’i. Martin would contribute five of his nine points during the first half to keep UCI within two points at the 7:20 minute mark. By halftime, the score was all tied up at 29-29.
The difference of the game came in the second half when the ‘Eaters came out with a flurry of baskets starting with a short jumper from Dimakopoulos. Davis II found his rhythm around the basket by attacking his defender with hook shots and floaters in the paint. The senior forward scored more than half of UCI’s total points in the paint with 18 off of 9-15 shooting.
When Davis II was not dominating the paint, Souza was lighting up from behind the arc, helping the ‘Eaters improve to 70 percent shooting from the floor in the second half, and 55.6 percent for the game. By the 1:17 minute mark, the starters were all smiles, the bench was cleared, and the game was over, 75-60.
“This was a big win for us against a quality team that is hard to beat,” said Coach Turner. “I am pleased with the overall effort of our team to take care of the ball the way we did. It shows a lot of growth from our key players.”
UCI 67 CSUN 58
On Saturday night, the ‘Eaters returned to the Bren and demonstrated a case of déjà vu, having started the game slowly by allowing the Matadors to go on a 10-4 run. In the past two games, UCI has struggled to get going early on, but have controlled the ball well enough to keep pace with their opponents.
Behind a strong effort by CSUN guard Stephan Hicks, who lead all players in the first half with 12 points, the Matadors battled and pushed forward keeping the game close but could not contain UCI’s quick ball movement, incredible shooting and solid rebounding.
Senior forward Will Davis II had a quiet first half, going 0-3 from the field but still managed to make all four of his free throws at the charity stripe; he would go on to take and drain a total of six shots for the night. UCI’s backcourt caught heat as senior guard Travis Souza continued his incredible shooting against CSUN by going 2-2 from behind the arc while sophomore guard Luke Nelson added eight early points to his grand total of 14 for the game. Pretty soon, the ‘Eaters found themselves up by seven at halftime, 41-34.
“I thought we got some solid play from a lot of different players tonight which has been the strength of this team all season,” said Coach Turner. “Cal State Northridge has had a rough year … and they continue to fight so I give them good credit for that. But I think we controlled the game and did what we should have done tonight.”
In the second half, Davis II came out and cleaned the glass, grabbing a total of five offensive boards to go along with four defensive ones in the half. He would end the game with a second straight double-double with 10 points and 11 boards, seven of which came on the offensive end.
“I was pleased with our rebounding effort,” said Coach Turner. “Will (Davis II) got seven offensive rebounds and kept a number of possessions alive for us.”
As Souza shot 0-5 from the field and Nelson started the second half on the bench with three fouls, the unsung hero of the game proved to be sophomore guard Jaron Martin who put up a career high of 19 points on 7-11 shooting. Martin broke out in the second half and scored 11 of his 19 points to lead the ‘Eaters past the Matadors, 67-58.
“Jaron (Martin) was terrific and he has been like that for many nights this year,” said Coach Turner. “He is real and there is no question about that at this point.”
With a shorthanded team, the ‘Eaters have held their own and managed to find a balance that has allowed them to pull away with two straight victories. UCI will travel to Cal Poly next Thursday and UC Santa Barbara next Saturday before returning to the Bren on Thursday, March 5 for the last home game of the Big West regular season.
“We are excited to have done what we did this week,” said Coach Turner. “I credit my players’ toughness and character because we got a lot of excuses that we could use for allowing our play to not be as good and we have chosen a different path.”