By Isaac Espinosa
UCI beat the University of Montana basketball team on Dec. 8 after an arduous but well-played neck-and-neck race to the final buzzer.
The ‘Eaters started off shakily, trailing the Grizzlies by ten points five minutes into the first half. Junior Evan Leonard was the first UCI player to score, landing a three-pointer and rejuvenating his teammates’ spirits. Their defense tightened up considerably, locking out Montana from scoring for nearly three minutes with some of the best guarding they’ve executed this preseason.
Their offense was equally potent, briefly taking a 13-12 lead ten minutes into the game. The rest of the first half showcased Robert Cartwright’s ability to disrupt the Grizzlies. He went into halftime with a total of four steals and several defensive ball pushes which led to a disoriented Montana scrambling for an out-of-bounds ball, only to have it awarded to the ‘Eaters.
Similarly, Leonard’s consistent shooting kept UCI up to pace with Montana after the latter regrouped and started to score again. Leonard made all four of his three point attempts going into halftime, as well as four of his five field goal attempts.
Halftime was called with the ‘Eaters up 27-26, a much more manageable position than their initial deficit.
Montana entered the second half strong, taking a 29-35 lead five minutes in. However, sloppy passing and aggressive rebounds from UCI tied up the game 39-39 with nine minutes left. Both teams played reservedly, shifting the lead no more than three points either way back and forth. With only three minutes left in the game, UCI exploded and completely shut down Montana’s shooting.
A 50-49 lead quickly developed into 58-49 with bold steals and intense defense. Montana was only able to make one field goal in this period, but by that time the game was already decided.
UCI walked away with a 60-51 victory and the pride of displaying their strongest plays this quarter. Defense has been one of their biggest problem areas, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from this game. The ‘Eaters stuck to Montana like glue, with the latter connecting only 37.5 percent of their field goals and 33.3 percent of their three-point attempts.
The next home game is this Saturday, Dec. 15, against the University of Denver.