UC Irvine impresses vs. Cal State Fullerton
IRVINE — In the most important part of the season, UC Irvine earned one of its most important wins in an impressive game Wednesday night at the Bren Events Center.
Hosting the Big West’s second-place team in Pacific, the Anteaters excelled in all nearly all facets playing one of the most complete basketball games of the season, toppling the Tigers 68-59.
UC Irvine (15-13, 9-6) moves into third place in the Big West Conference standings after Cal Poly’s loss to Cal State Fullerton. Pacific (15-11, 9-5) remains in second, as Long Beach State defeated UC Davis.
The win was the third in a row for UC Irvine and improved its Bren Center record to 7-0.
“Our team won the way that we have showed that we can win and that’s by guarding at a high level and I’m pleased with the way that we did that,” said UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner. “We did the things that we’ve got to do.”
With Ross Rivera sick and unable to play, Pacific was left without a key role player. The Tigers managed to hang close throughout most of the game but back-to-back three pointers by Michael Wilder in the second half keyed a run that would be the turning point in the game.
Wilder, who has struggled with his outside shot at times this season and at times has come up clutch, hit three from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“Mike Wilder with two in a row, which seems like it hasn’t happened that often this year, but it’s going to happen,” Turner said. “Anybody who thinks otherwise is crazy.”
The Anteaters shot 50 percent from the perimeter, with Wilder, Souza and Daman Starring all finishing with multiple threes. Starring led Irvine with 16 points.
Irvine’s big men, Adam Folker and Will Davis II, both played integral roles for the Anteaters offensively and defensively. Folker finished with a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds while Davis also had 13 points to go along with eight boards.
“I can’t say enough about the effort of my big boys,” Turner said. “Will and Adam were in a tough assignment. Pacific really stretches you out to perimeter and makes you beat screens in those positions and those two guys took that challenge.”
Pacific was held to just 33.3 percent shooting from the field. Tony Gill came off the bench for 17 points and seven rebounds while Lorenzo McCloud added 11 points.
UC Irvine pulled out to a 15-6 lead with a man-to-man defense that forced several early turnovers.
But Pacific managed to solve the problem midway through the half with a 10-2 run. Still down 15-6 with 11:13 on the clock, Sama Taku dropped in a teardrop in the lane and Rodrigo De Souza converted a three-point play. A three by McCloud then put the Tigers back by just one at 15-14.
The two battled close throughout the half. With 4:50 left, Pacific went into a 2-3 zone and immediately forced a turnover. Trevin Harris then hit a wraparound to tie the game at 25-all. But the Tigers would score only one more point in the final stretch, going into the locker room down 30-26.
Both teams came out of the locker room somewhat cold. The game remained close until the final 12 minutes of the second half.
Tied at 38-all going into a media timeout at 11:49, Turner felt himself fired up and an assistant coach suggested that if he calmed down, the team might as well.
Wilder then went out and drained two threes. Souza then followed suit with two of his own and Davis capped off a 14-point rally with a catch-and-shoot bank shot in the paint.
“Mike and Travis (Souza) got hot,” said guard Daman Starring. “That was big. We definitely need a spark at that point in the game since we had gone through a second where we didn’t really score. Mike came out big and hit that three-pointer on the right side and then another one on the other side and then Travis came out and hit that three too and it was huge.”
The Anteaters then built the run to 20-8, going up by as much as 14 points. The Tigers had nearly six minutes left to make up the difference but continued to be frustrated by the Anteater defense.