By Isaac Espinosa
UCI fell to Utah State on Dec. 1 in one of their most anticipated preseason home games. Utah, second seed in the Mountain West Conference, was expected to make for good competition, having only lost one game. However, their defense and consistent shooting locked out UCI to a 63-87 defeat.
Staying only a few points behind for the first ten minutes of the first half, UCI quickly fell behind due to their inability to score and Utah’s overpowering offense. The Anteaters shot zero for six three pointers in the first half, allowing the Aggies’ slow but steady field goals to widen the point gap. A 10-13 scoreboard became much more intimidating when the Aggies took a 19-33 lead with three minutes left in the half.
Failing to grab rebounds also significantly hurt the ‘Eaters’ chances of a come back. At one point, Utah’s Neemias Queta had more rebounds than UCI had combined, only furthering the home team’s frustrations.
Robert Cartwright was able to steal the ball and score with ten seconds left before halftime to stitch together a slightly more manageable 23-37, but UCI needed to refocus its defense and shake off whatever was causing them to shoot so poorly in order to take the game back.
The ‘Eaters came back strong, making a quick six points in the first couple minutes of the second half and preventing Utah from furthering their lead. This bravado gradually melted as UCI failed to connect any shots over the following 3 minutes, and Utah used this opportunity to push their score up to 33-53.
Every problem plaguing UCI in the first half quickly returned, with Utah making 10 of 14 attempted three-pointers, and stomping over UCI’s defensive efforts. Offense was similarly difficult, as seemingly open opportunities for outside shots were shirked for drives that didn’t pay off as often as the team needed. Three-point shots continued to prove nearly impossible as well, with Darrian Traylor hitting UCI’s first nearly an hour and a half after the game had started.
The 20 point difference established at the beginning of the second stayed steady, with the ‘Eaters finally falling to a shocking 65-89 by the final buzzer. Strong attempts were made to close the gap, but the sum of everyone’s efforts wasn’t enough. Cartwright made another two steals in the second half, and, although he did not complete the lay-up on one, ended with nine points and converted all of his free throw attempts.
Eyassu Worku led the ‘Eaters with 11 points and 3 assists. Max Hazzard uncharacteristically contributed no points, missing all three of this field goals and all three of his three point attempts.
The ‘Eaters have much more to prove on the court than is evident from this game. Only their second loss this season, they have performed at a high level and will hopefully return to form for both their away game at Cal Baptist on Dec. 5 and the much-anticipated home game against the University of Montana on Dec. 8.