The UC Irvine men’s basketball team faced off against Big West Conference opponent UC Riverside this past Saturday in hopes of extending their two-game winning streak, following their victories on the road against Cal State Northridge and Hawaii.
The Anteaters started off hot as the starting five was firing on all cylinders and getting easy jumpers from the perimeter. The chemistry on their offensive was shown to be their motor in the beginning, as their pick-and-roll action was effective against Riverside’s man-to-man defense.
Junior forward Tommy Rutherford put in efficient work for his team, being aggressive in the paint and capitalizing on easy buckets with his post moves.
Third-year Eyassu Worku and graduate student Jonathan Galloway were also major contributors to the the Anteaters’ offensive threat, as they helped with 13 points combined in the first half, shooting 6-9 from the field.
Riverside held on with some run-and-gun offense that picked up as the half wound down. The Highlanders’ guard Dominick Pickett ran the show for UCR, as he racked up nine points on an efficient 3-4 shooting. The rest of the team forced turnovers and ran the fast break resulting in a few easy buckets, including an and-one alley oop to put a statement on their short run.
The first half came to a close with UCI up 41-30 on the Highlanders.
In the second half, Irvine exhibited their strength as a team and began to pull away,never looking back from the lead they built. They continued playing their team-style of basketball and had everybody on the floor clicking in all aspects.
Power forward Elston Jones was able to provide his team with second chance points, crashing the offensive boards and making his presence known against defenders.
These second chance points put Riverside in a tough position to come back, as their own tempo was thrown off and their execution wasn’t the same.
The Highlanders shot a subpar 37.3 percent from the field overall, a result of Irvine’s pressure defense and Riverside’s inability to hit wide open shots.
Irvine improved their shot-making ability in the second half and became snipers from three-point land, shooting56 percent from beyond the arc (10-18) and 53 percent from the field overall. The team had four players in double figures: Max Hazzard (11), Galloway (11), Rutherford (10) and Jones (14).
In the end, the Anteaters ran away with this game, beating UC Riverside with a final score of 82-64, extending their winning streak to three games and keeping the number one spot in their conference.
Rutherford commented on his team’s efforts afterwards and said, “I feel like we dictated defensively. With Galloway and Elston especially, they had big performances. We communicated well on the defensive end and that’s kind of what starts our runs, just the way we play as a unit on the defensive side. We executed well on offense too. We got good shots, took care of the ball and had a good number of assists.”
Elston, who had a solid game himself, gave insight into how he was able to contribute and what he expects moving forward, stating, “Plays like that, offensive rebounds, usually brings energy to your team, so I decided to make those energy games to keep us going. We have high expectations for our team. We just gotta stay focused and keep going. Coach is always keeping us on the edge and make sure we don’t forget that we have to work for everything we want this year.”
UC Irvine looks to keep this streak alive next game, as they’ll be on the road facing the second-seeded UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in what’s expected to be a tough matchup for both sides, who have started the season hot.