The UCI Anteaters (16-8, 10-4) defeated Long Beach State (5-11, 4-8) by a score of 73-58 on March 6. The win capped off a two-game series, resulting in a season sweep for the Anteaters who secured the second overall seed in the Big West Conference Championship.
UCI started strong with two quick baskets and a turnover that led into a three-pointer. After that, sophomore guard Isaiah Lee hit a three-pointer; the score was 10-0. UCI’s defense kept LBSU from getting on the board for nearly five minutes as they started the game, 0-12, from the field.
LBSU began to find their shooting touch, causing a visible struggle from UCI’s side. Senior guard Colin Slater subbed in and shifted the momentum for LBSU immediately. Slater hit four three-pointers, making the first 12 of the Beach’s 13 points. Freshman guard Dawson Baker answered with two three-pointer shots of his own. This put UCI back up by four, 24-20.
It was a longball shootout as both teams lit it up from beyond the arc. LBSU controlled the offensive boards, giving themselves extra opportunities to convert. The Anteaters weathered LBSU’s storm with redshirt senior center Brad Greene’s post play and control of the glass. The score was knotted up at 28-28 before sophomore forward Dean Keeler hit a spinning hook shot.
UCI’s Keeler and redshirt freshman center Emmanuel Tshimanga had great runs. Both players roles’ have expanded since integrating themselves more comfortably in the program.
Freshman guard DJ Davis hit a tough running floater to put the Anteaters up, 33-30. In the final two possessions, Irvine finished in close before forcing an LBSU miss as time expired. UCI led 35-30 at the end of the first half.
UCI dominated the second half from the jump. Redshirt junior forward Collin Welp found room to score inside while Greene found success down low. Head coach Russell Turner’s game plan was to take the tempo back from LBSU, keeping them from scoring from deep. UCI managed to attack the boards, evening up the totals as they blew the game open to 44-32 with under 16 minutes left.
The Anteaters continued to balloon their lead to 15 points before going into cruise control. Davis was a consistent threat on offense, and UCI did a great job at limiting the Beach’s scoring output.
There was a sense of frustration for LBSU’s static offense that caused the team to get into their sets and settle for low percentage shots. LBSU’s three-point shooting had collapsed, and they were beginning to look like they had run out of answers.
UCI stuck to their game plan, continuing to move the ball around the floor, boxing out after misses and protecting the rim. As a result, LBSU only made three field goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
UCI carved out an 18 point lead, 62-44, with under five minutes remaining. The Anteaters showed their multifaceted offense with Davis’ driving and finishing and Greene’s post dominance and ball movement, which led to open three-pointers.
Within a few minutes after the start of the second half, there seemed to be a shift in the mood that was separate from the score. The Anteaters were calm and collected; they didn’t let the early barrage from LBSU rattle them. By the end of the second half, UCI outscored the Beach by 10 points.
Baker led the Anteaters with 14 points, and Slater led LBSU with 15. Baker and Davis were the only two Anteaters that cracked double-digit points, showcasing the success of Turner’s team-oriented offensive attack.
“I was pleased with our starters and how we began the game tonight,” UCI head coach Russell Turner said in the postgame interview. “I thought we were locked in and competitive, you could see that in the start of the second half as well. The pressure is going to be on next week and we are going to try to embrace that with our young team. We have the ability to perform, and we are going to have to rise up over the next week.”
UCI displayed their experience and energy on the court despite being such a young team; they’ve proven themselves to be incredibly well-rounded.
The Anteaters look to continue their strong performance at the 2021 Air Force Reserve Big West Men’s Basketball Championships, presented by the Hawaiian Islands at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, from March 9-13.
Matthew Zeko is a Sports Intern for the 2021 Winter Quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.