The UC Irvine Anteaters fell 0-2 to start the season after losing 58-77 to the San Diego State University Aztecs on Nov. 27.
Despite tenacious play on defense and showcasing a reputably dominant 21 point rebound performance during the first half to keep the score within reach at 25-34, the Aztecs pulled away in the second half. They took advantage of the Anteater’s poor ball handling, causing turnovers and translating them into an onslaught of three-pointers to close the game with a 19-point lead. After devastating back-to-back losses, UCI Head Coach Russell Turner remains optimistic about the future of his team.
“I see improvement even though the score didn’t reflect tonight. I thought that we did dictate large parts of the first half,” Turner said.
Even though the Anteaters led the game in rebounds by grabbing 38 boards by the end of the night, they did not particularly leave a good impression on the box score. UCI was outgunned; they shot a mere 28% from the perimeter and 50% from the freethrow line, turning over the ball a whopping 25 times.
According to Turner, beyond what the statistic sheet shows, the Anteaters were able to put together an outstanding performance. Their level of play on defense, the intensity they brought onto the court and their ability to rebound was applauded by Turner. But despite their excellent performance on the defensive end, Turner pointed out that there is still plenty of room for improvement, both defensively and especially on offense.
“I don’t think our conditioning and physicality is good enough yet to sustain the type of defense we play for the entire game and especially against the type of strong and deep team that SDSU is,” Turner said.
Redshirt sophomore James Caron “JC” Butler and sophomore Jeron Artest paired up as strong wing defenders against a highly experienced and problematic Aztec backcourt.
Redshirt senior Brad Greene, playing the center position, led the team in scoring with 11 points by shooting 62.5% on the court. The young core also managed to move the ball around, efficiently raking in 14 total assists as a team while looking confident in taking shots. Freshman Dawson Baker played with exceptional grit on both sides of the court, putting up 10 points himself. He tied in second for leading scorer of the team with redshirt junior Collin Welp.
Although these individual performances did not add up to a team win, Turner hopes that fans can stay patient as they work through building their team chemistry.
“We haven’t fit well enough together to function through 40 minutes at a level that’s good enough to win games,” Turner said.
The Anteaters played their next game against the Bethesda University Flames on Saturday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. at the Bren Events Center.
Jaidee Maximo Villaflor is a Sports Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.