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UCI Men’s Basketball Team Takes Down UCSB in the Big West Conference Opener

The UCI Men’s Basketball team reigned victorious against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, 75-56, at the Bren Events Center on Sunday, Dec. 27. 

The Anteaters (5-4, 2-0) were looking to get their first win in the Big West Conference and pulled out a solid victory against UCSB (4-3, 0-2) to remain undefeated in conference play this 2020-21 season. 

With tonight’s win, UCI earned their third straight conference opening victory.

The game tipped off with UCSB controlling the ball, which was followed by a missed 3-point shot attempt by UCSB junior forward Miles Norris. 

UCI redshirt sophomore forward JC Butler got the rebound, giving the Anteaters a chance to score first. However, they failed to do so as UCI redshirt senior center Brad Greene missed a lay up. UCSB’s Norris grabbed the rebound before drawing a foul and converting one of two free throws. 

The two teams traded points throughout the first couple minutes of the half. After Greene’s basket near the hoop, the Anteaters were in full stride. 

Subbed in at 18:18, UCI freshman guard Dawson Baker made an impressive 3-point shot from beyond the arc, coming out strong in his Big West debut. This began a 13-0 scoring run for the Anteaters. 

UCSB missed five 3-pointers during the Anteater’s biggest offensive burst, allowing the Anteaters to pull away with an early advantage. Irvine’s momentum on the court was too much for the Gaucho defense.

UCI’s Butler, sophomore forward Austin Johnson and redshirt freshman guard Justin Hohn all made buckets during the five minute scoring run. Additionally, UCI redshirt freshman center Emmanuel Tshimanga’s jumper in the paint made the score 15-3, with UCI in the lead. UCSB junior guard JaQuori McLaughlin hit the Gaucho’s first 3-pointer of the game to end their scoring drought. 

As UCI’s momentum slowed down due to missed back-to-back shots, UCSB took advantage of the opportunity and went on a 9-2 scoring run about halfway through the half. This cut the Anteaters’ lead to six points, 21-15.

UCSB closed the gap to four points, 30-26, with about four minutes left in the half after UCI got fouled, which sent the Gauchos to the free throw line.

UCI responded with two made jumpers by Butler, who finished with nine points and two steals. 

To end the first half, UCI freshman guard Andre Henry hit a jumper in the paint. This gave the Anteaters a 36-28 lead.

UCI outscored UCSB, 22-6, in the paint during the first half. The Anteaters made an impressive 54% of their field goals while the Gauchos struggled mightily.

“I thought we were really really good for most of the half defensively … I like our aggressiveness, but I think we fouled way too much in the first half,” UCI Head Coach Russell Turner said to ESPN in his halftime interview.

At the beginning of the second half, UCI continued their aggression on the court. By drawing fouls, chasing rebounds and finding the open shot, the Anteaters increased their lead, 40-30, at 18:34. 

As Irvine created a larger scoring gap, the Gauchos began to miss more of their shots.

With a little over 13 minutes left in the game, Johnson and Hohn scored back-to-back buckets, creating a 49-34 Anteater lead. 

Greene matched his teammates’ energies as he then scored six straight points in the paint. Baker was also able to secure a jumper for the team to bump the score up to 57-41.

As the clock ticked down, the Anteaters never gave the Gauchos a chance to recover. By dominating the paint, rebounds and getting to the free throw line, UCI ended the night with a resounding victory, 75-56. 

UCI’s comfortable 19-point victory was a welcoming sight for the team’s leading scorer.

“I feel like our team just came out wanting to play … this really shows how we are as competitors,” Greene said to ESPN.

Greene notched his first double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Turner agreed with Greene in his post-game radio interview and announced that this was just the beginning of their conference title defense. 

“Tonight was a good win, no question, but it was only one win out of what is scheduled to be 20 games,” Turner said. “I do think our guys came ready to play tonight and that our team can be good, and I think [that] tonight, maybe we made the statement that we are going to be a good team in time.”

Redshirt junior forward Collin Welp was the second highest scorer for the Anteaters in the game, ending the night with a total of 11 points and eight rebounds. Baker followed with nine points this game. Additionally, Hohn finished with a career high of seven points and four assists.

UCSB sophomore guard Ajare Sanni, who came off the bench, led all players with 15 points and five rebounds.

UCI’s dominance in the paint and scoring jumpers was what separated them from UCSB in this game. UCSB relied heavily on shots from beyond the arc, which they failed to score, hurting their chances to keep up with UCI.  The Gauchos were only able to shoot  3-25 from the 3-point line. In all, the Anteaters outscored the Gauchos 46-22 inside the paint. 

UCI played against the UCSB Gauchos again in their second Big West game of the season and won 73-69 on Monday, Dec. 28 at the Bren Events Center. The Anteaters will travel to Cal State Northridge for a two game set against the Matadors on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. Both games will be streamed live on ESPN3 at 4 p.m..  

Gina Johnson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at ginaj@uci.edu.