The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (9-4, 5-0) came out on top, 53-51, against the University of Hawaii at Mānoa (4-5, 2-5) in the first game of their Big West series at the SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center on Friday, Jan. 29.
In their previous meeting, the Anteaters beat the Rainbow Warriors, 70-63. The Anteaters came into this year’s matchup expecting a tough fight with the Rainbow Warriors.
UCI welcomed back three freshmen guards — Dawson Baker, DJ Davis and Andre Henry — that missed last week’s wins against Cal Poly due to contact tracing. The return of Davis’ defensive presence on the court was key for Anteaters’ success.
UCI controlled the ball first after the tip off and sophomore guard Isaiah Lee opened the scoring with a three pointer. The Anteaters then played their signature style of suffocating defense, which slowed the pace down for the Rainbow Warriors.
UCI redshirt senior center Brad Greene’s intense defense made it almost impossible for UH to get past him in the paint. Greene, the Big West Conference’s top defensive blocker, recorded his season first of five blocks within five minutes into the game.
UH junior guard Junior Madut broke a 11-11 deadlock and grabbed the first lead for Hawaii after draining a three from beyond the arc with just over 10 minutes remaining in the half. UCI’s Baker and Davis quickly responded with back to back jumpers to give the lead back to the Anteaters, 15-14.
UCI took advantage of the Warriors’s communication issues with Greene and redshirt junior forward Collin Welp’s offensive leadership. The duo were synced up throughout the game as Welp thoroughly read Greene’s movement and fed him the ball. Greene used his height advantage to tower over the Warriors and score easily inside the key. UCI now led by seven points, 21-14, with just over five minutes left in the first half.
During the 10-0 UCI scoring run, Hawaii lacked consistency on the offensive end and went a span of five minutes without a score. However, UH junior center Mate Colina and Madut’s offensive push allowed their team to climb back into the game and close the deficit by two at the end of the first half, 25-22.
With UCI shooting 40% from the field compared to UH’s 30% at the half, the Anteaters executed more on both ends of the floor.
Heading into the second half, the Warriors adjusted their offense and executed their shots while increasing their pace. With Hawaii senior forward Casdon Jardine shooting for the lead once more, the two teams traded leads until UCI found their rhythm 13 minutes into the half, 35-34.
UCI sophomore forward Austin Johnson got the lead back after a jumper.
With 11 minutes left in the half, Hawaii only had one timeout left and became desperate for the lead. Jardine attempted to maneuver through the thick Anteater defense, but it was too much for the Rainbow Warriors as they missed shots and were outrebounded.
With 40 seconds left in the game, UCI held a two point lead. The Rainbow Warriors tried to take an easy shot inside the paint, but Greene held a crucial block which converted into his 14th rebound of the game. On the next possession, Lee sank his two free throws and gave the team a small gap, 53-49.
Hawaii responded with two points by Jardine. UH fouled Lee again, which sent him to the line one more time. Lee missed the free throw and the Rainbow Warriors rebounded the ball with five seconds left on the clock. However, time was not enough for the Rainbow Warriors and the Anteaters managed to pull out a 53-51 victory.
UCI’s Greene shined in this game as he led the game with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. Jardine led Hawaii with 14 points and four rebounds.
“When you look at the impact Brad [Greene] had on the game defensively it was phenomenal,” UCI head coach Russell Turner said after the game. “Highlighted obviously by the last play it was a real physically called game which suits [Greene]. He did not have foul trouble so he was able to be aggressive around the rim so we were really happy to see that from him.
Turner spoke on his overall outlook of tonight’s game and the team’s emotions after experiencing such a close game.
“We are pleased obviously with the win and feel fortunate to be able to pull one out,” Turner said. “When we shoot the ball as poorly as we did for three free throws tonight, we always say character and defense travel and tonight’s a good testament to that.”
Turner also stated how frustration was a major obstacle to overcome, especially with Hawaii being tough competition for the Anteaters.
“With a lot of our guys, we were shaky with the ball and Hawaii did a great job of getting after us, but we defended consistently and when you do that you give yourself a chance and we were right there to win,” Turner said. “So we are pleased and relieved with the outcome.”
The Anteaters played the Rainbow Warriors once again on Saturday, Jan. 30 and lost in overtime, 62-61. The Anteaters return to the Bren Events Center to take on Big West newcomers CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6.
Malia Nazario is a staff writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.