HONOLULU, Hawaii — The third-seeded Long Beach State men’s volleyball team swept sixth-seeded UC Irvine, 25-22, 25-19, 25-21, in a quarterfinal of the Big West Conference Tournament on Thursday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Long Beach (7-4) advances to the semifinals, where it will face No. 2 seed UC Santa Barbara (13-4) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. PT. LBSU and UCSB split their two regular-season matches, each winning in four sets on their home courts on consecutive days last month.
Unbeaten top seed Hawaii (15-0) will meet fourth-seeded UC San Diego (4-12) in Friday’s second semifinal, with the championship match scheduled for Saturday.
LBSU hit an impressive .432 in the match, with Spencer Olivier logging 18 kills and Ethan Siegfried adding 10. Setter Aidan Knipe had 42 assists as every Long Beach player hit above .300 for the match.
Defensively, libero Mason Briggs had 10 digs, while Shane Holdaway had four blocks and Simon Andersen and Siegfried added three blocks apiece.
Opposite hitter Alexandre Nsakanda led UCI (2-14) with 11 kills, while outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller added seven kills and three digs. Setter Dylan Zhai had 21 assists and five digs.
The teams traded points early and battled through 10 ties in the opening set before Long Beach went on a 5-0 run to open a 15-10 advantage. Long Beach never trailed again in the opening set, and took control early in an uneventful second set.
UCI took an early lead to start the third set, but Long Beach used a 3-0 run to gain a 10-9 lead and pushed the margin to 14-11 before the Anteaters rallied to tie the score at 21-all. Following a timeout, Long Beach regrouped and closed out the match on a 4-0 run.
Usually, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team wears people down. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, the Anteaters were on the other end of that process, and maybe it says something about this strangest of seasons.
Or maybe it’s just one of those years.
Russell Turner’s 2020-21 team is really young, and it ran into a UC Santa Barbara team with a senior leader who was not only the Big West Conference Player of the Year – and conference tournament MVP – but a young man with a long memory. JaQuori McLaughlin played 39 of 40 minutes and scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half, along with three of his four 3-pointers during a 15-4 run that put the game away, in UCSB’s convincing 79-63 victory at the Mandalay Bay arena.
Gauchos coach Joe Pasternack made sure he put a reminder on his team’s whiteboard of the first two meetings between the teams in late December, 19- and four-point UCI victories at the Bren Events Center.
“We didn’t forget about that the whole year,” McLaughlin said. “And when we got to this game, we were ready. We just do what we did as a team and scouted them as good as we could in one day. And we just did a good job of following the game plan as a team.”
Bottom line: The Gauchos are going to the NCAA Tournament (and in another weird coincidence, so is the school from which McLaughlin transferred, Oregon State). Meanwhile, the Anteaters who will return – which should be almost everyone – will have a memory to keep them fired up in years to come.
“I had this experience as a freshman, as well,” said Brad Greene, UCI’s 6-foot-11 senior center. “I lost in the championship game then, and I know that really fueled me coming into that summer and the seasons after. And so I know each of these young guys coming up will be really ready to play.”
To be precise, Greene had this experience back-to-back years. UCI lost to UC Davis in the final his freshman year and to Cal State Fullerton his sophomore year. He redshirted in 2019, when the Anteaters not only swept through the Big West Tournament but knocked off Kansas State in the first round while going 31-6. And who’s to say last year’s 21-11 team didn’t have a similar run in it before COVID-19 shut the whole thing down.
Results matter this year, as they always do. But it doesn’t hurt to evaluate them in relation to all of the other things that players and coaches have dealt with while trying to play through the worst pandemic in a century: Isolation, testing, restrictions on practice time, when you can gather, how you bond as a team. If you got through the season and played all or most of your scheduled games and didn’t have anyone come down with COVID, isn’t that a victory of sorts?
UCI had a January two-game series with Cal State Northridge and another two-game set with UC Davis canceled and a game against UC San Diego postponed. UCSB lost a series against Long Beach State in early February. The Gauchos were relatively lucky.
Maybe this entire Pandemic Basketball experience will turn out to have had a positive impact on players just from the standpoint of resiliency and a renewed appreciation of the game.
“There have been – I don’t know if consequences is the right word, but this season’s hard,” Turner said. “Our guys have been away from their families. This has been a tough grind. And the buy-in that our young group has had has been outstanding. And Brad, as a leader of this team, as the captain, gets most of the credit for holding the locker room together, but also our staff. … I don’t know how to measure this. It’s hard and there’s an impact. There’s a psychological, there’s an emotional impact of everything we’ve experienced.
“So what I hope is that it’s going to make us better. We’re going to have to try to figure that out, continue to adapt and grow, but that’ll be a challenge.”
How does a player in a position of leadership help his teammates through all of this?
“It’s been rough,” Greene said. “There’s not a lot of outlets for the guys. Usually, during the season people have fans. They have their families coming to games. They have friends there with them. They’re able to socialize outside of it. This year, I thought we did a really good job with just staying together on campus, staying together with one another, creating our own energy in games.”
That might be another of those things that are important but go unnoticed. In buildings without fans, the emotion and enthusiasm the bench provides can be critical.
“To battle through the conference with no fans, with just ourselves, achieve a second-place (finish) and then again to make it all the way to the conference championship in the Big West Tournament, I feel like it was just our guys and wanting to compete, wanting to be with one another,” Greene said. “A lot of these guys are really close to me now.
“As a fifth-year (senior), you know, you’ve got to build those connections. And I feel like this group is phenomenal and I’m really looking forward to what they can bring together in the future.”
Might that have been a warning to the rest of the Big West?
UC Irvine’s total team effort Saturday at UC Riverside was a huge difference from what it turned in Friday. But it really couldn’t have been worse.
A day after a 21-point loss to the Highlanders, the Anteaters came back with an impressive 73-67 win to split the weekend series and regain some confidence.
The big effort came from Collin Welp. The 6-foot-9 junior forward was the hub of the team’s play, sparking several important runs during the game while scoring a season-high 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
Welp had two baskets and an assist during an 11-0 run early in the second half that turned a nine-point deficit into a lead; dropped a 3-pointer moments after UCR had regained the lead; and down the stretch had a putback of a missed shot, drew a charge and then punctuated the game with a turn-around fadeaway 3-pointer.
Brad Greene had 10 points and seven rebounds and Jeron Artest and Isaiah Lee hit 3-pointers down the stretch in between Welp’s dramatics. The team defense was superlative late, UCR making just three field goals in the final 10 minutes, one of those a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Arinze Chidom had 17 points and Dominic Pickett 10 for the Highlanders.
“He performed like a leader,” UCI coach Russell Turner said of Welp after the win. “But it’s just as important to talk about what he did on defense as much as his 27 and 13.
“We adjusted from Friday and Collin guarded their big center (Jock Perry) and did a good job, and then late he drew a charge by Chidom.”
The 7-1, 250-pound Perry was held to 2-for-9 shooting on Saturday, while UCI dominated the boards 45-30 and held a 30-16 advantage in paint points.
“The passion was there tonight,” Turner said. “The guys responded with character. Brad played well in the second half after some bad luck early and we got those late 3-pointers from Jeron and Isaiah.”
UCI improved to 11-7 overall and 7-3 in Big West Conference play, bunched at the top with UC Santa Barbara (8-2), Bakersfield (8-4) and Riverside (9-5 overall, 5-3 Big West).
The Anteaters’ 21-point loss Friday was their most lopsided in regulation league play since a 22-point defeat in 2016-17, and surprising in the way UCR dominated the game.
From the outset Saturday, the energy level was high. The Anteaters were giving the Highlanders’ perimeter players very little room to shoot a night after they went 14 for 26 from 3-point range.
The first half was close throughout. Down by four, Welp had back-to-back baskets to draw even at 35, but the Anteaters had a late defensive breakdown and Chidom hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give UCR a 39-35 lead.
Chidom hit a basket and Zyon Pullin a 3-pointer to start the second half and extend the Riverside lead to nine at 44-35. That’s when Welp started surgically cutting up the Highlander defense. He had jumpers on each end of the 11-0 run as well as a nice assist on a Greene basket for a 46-44 lead.
“We make our runs off our defense, it’s what we built our culture on,” Turner said. “It’s that critical learning which allows us to figure out a way to overcome things.”
UCR regained a four-point lead at 56-52 on a 3-pointer from George Wilborn III with 10:03 left, but Welp and a strong defensive effort led to a 21-8 closing run. Welp’s layup with 4:18 left made it 63-61 and UCI led the rest of the way. A 3-pointer from Chidom with 2:32 left got the Highlanders within 66-64, but it was one of only three Highlander field goals in the final 10 minutes, the last one a meaningless 3-pointer at game’s end.
After Welp’s fadeaway jumper, UCR came up empty on its next four possessions, firing up three errant 3-point shots and turning the ball over once.
The Anteaters are scheduled to play at Cal State Fullerton (5-6, 4-6) next Friday and Saturday (5 p.m.), though Fullerton has had to cancel its past four games due to COVID-19 protocols. UCR next plays two at UC San Diego (4-7, 0-0).
Human nature was the big winner on Saturday night at the Bren Events Center.
On Friday, UC Irvine used a balanced attack and an impressive defensive effort to hand Cal State Bakersfield a 17-point loss. On Saturday, it was Bakersfield handing the Anteaters a 62-57 loss, physically pushing the Anteaters around the arena and handing them their first home loss of the season.
The Roadrunners shot just 36.8 percent (21 for 57) from the field but dominated the boards, with 15 offensive rebounds and a 12-3 edge on second-chance points to go with just five turnovers in a game that was as physical as a wrestling match.
“I think it’s a natural thing, just human nature,” UCI coach Russ Turner said after the loss. “We’re like everyone else. After a win, there’s some complacency, maybe you don’t have as much of a competitive edge. It’s a tough deal, and we just have to handle it better.”
The Anteaters (10-6 overall, 6-2 Big West Conference) dropped the second game of their series at Hawaii last weekend (in overtime). On Saturday, they shot 44 percent but had a difficult time finding open shots and rebounds in the second half. Only Collin Welp (14 points, eight rebounds) had any kind of consistent offensive effort as they dropped to 8-1 at home, their first Bren defeat since Dec. 7, 2019.
Bakersfield came out aggressive Saturday and the Anteaters had just one impressive run all night, a 16-7 burst in the first half.
“It was a physical game and credit goes to Bakersfield for being more physical,” Turner said. “We didn’t have the edge like we did Friday, and we’re not at the stage yet where we can win without our best effort. There wasn’t as much attention to detail, or to winning loose balls and rebounds.
“We looked a bit soft and weak in the paint and didn’t create opportunities, which isn’t like us. I didn’t have any problems with the officiating, but the tone early was that Bakersfield would be allowed to be more physical, and that concerned me.”
Austin Johnson and Isaiah Lee each had eight points in the first half but were blanked in the second. Dawson Baker didn’t score in the first half but had nine points in the second. UCI held Bakersfield to 53 points on Friday, but UCI senior center Brad Greene was at the epicenter of the Roadrunners’ inside attack a night later and he struggled, with just two baskets and four rebounds. The Anteaters also had seven misses in 21 attempts from the free-throw line.
Bakersfield led 14-11 early after a defensive foul call against Jeron Artest, which Turner disputed, resulting in a technical foul, and a 3-pointer by Cameron Smith.
The Anteaters responded with an impressive series of set plays that ran off Welp, giving them a 29-23 lead with three-plus minutes left in the half. Bakersfield converted some late free throws to lead 31-30 at the break.
UCI led once in the second half, at 40-38, but the margin was never more than six throughout. The score was tied at 51, 53 and 56, then Bakersfield got an edge, Taze Moore hitting an open 10-footer and Justin McCall scoring off a nice inside feed late in a possession for a 60-57 lead with 1:10 left.
Greene got open looks on the next two possessions but couldn’t convert and Shawn Stith put the game away with two free throws with seven seconds left. McCall (15) and Stith (12) led the Roadrunners (12-7, 8-4 Big West) on offense. Ronne Readus had a team-high nine rebounds.
UC Santa Barbara (12-3, 8-2) now leads the conference standings based on winning percentage, though UCI holds the tiebreaker based on a sweep of their two-game series in late December. UCI remains ahead of Bakersfield and UC Riverside (8-4, 4-2).
The Anteaters play two games at UC Riverside next week against a Highlanders team that couldn’t play its two games at Cal State Fullerton this week because of COVID-19 protocols. Friday’s game tips at 4 p.m., while Saturday is scheduled for a 9 p.m. start and will be broadcast on ESPNU.
HONOLULU — Hawaii went nearly 12 minutes without scoring, but UC Irvine couldn’t score when it mattered most in a 62-61 overtime loss to the Rainbow Warriors on Saturday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
UCI’s Dawson Baker made a jumper to open the scoring in OT but the Anteaters went 0 for 8 from the field the rest of the way – including a pair of close-range attempts from Andre Henry and Collin Welp in the final seconds – and saw their seven-game winning streak to an end.
Welp had a season-high 20 points and nine rebounds for UCI (9-5 overall, 5-1 Big West Conference), which had just five assists and 19 turnovers. Brad Greene added 16 points, 11 boards and two blocked shots.
Both teams made just one basket in overtime (Hawaii took only three shots), and a pair of free throws from Welp cut the margin to 62-61 with 2:52 left. Hawaii turned it over four times the rest of the way – the last on a steal by Henry with about eight seconds left – but the Anteaters couldn’t convert any of those opportunities into points.
“At the end of overtime we made the defensive stop that we needed to make and there was enough time on the clock that I thought we could push the ball in transition and take a look or call a timeout to ensure we got a shot,” UCI coach Russell Turner said. “We got the turnover and I thought Andre Henry made a great play at the rim but the ball rolled out for him and then Collin Welp got a great opportunity at the end that just didn’t go in.”
Greene made a basket to give UCI a 57-47 lead with 2:32 left in regulation, but the Warriors scored the next 10 points to force overtime. Justin Hemsley made a layup to trim Hawaii’s deficit to 57-55 with 35 seconds left. After an Anteaters turnover, Hemsley was called for an offensive foul but Junior Madut stole the inbounds pass, was fouled and converted a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds left to force overtime.
“We didn’t finish the game well at the end,” Turner said. “We showed a lack of toughness and I am really disappointed in that. I am hopeful that this will be a lesson that will make us better and stay together as a team. I give Hawaii a lot of credit.”
Webster hit a 3-pointer to give Hawaii a 26-20 lead with 6:55 left in the first half, then the hosts didn’t score again until he made a jumper with 15:13 left in the second half. UCI scored the first 16 points of the second half, part of a 21-2 run spanning halftime that gave the Anteaters a 13-point lead with 14:19 left in regulation.
UCI shot 39.7 percent (25 for 63) from the field overall and just 3 for 13 (23.1 percent) from 3-point range while Hawaii shot just 37.7 percent (20 for 53) overall but fared better from beyond the arc (7 for 18). The Anteaters were outrebounded 36-35 but outscored the Warriors 32-22 in the paint and 19-12 in second-chance points.
Hawaii, which turned the ball over 20 times, turned UCI’s 19 turnovers into 21 points.
UCI hosts Cal State Bakersfield in a two-game series on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. on ESPN3 while Saturday’s game begins at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.
HONOLULU — In a tight conference game on the road, it never hurts to have a dominant big man – especially when the perimeter shots aren’t going in.
Senior center Brad Greene had 18 points, a season-high 14 rebounds and a season-high five blocked shots to lead UC Irvine to a 53-51 victory over Hawaii on Friday night, the Anteaters’ seventh consecutive win.
On a night when UCI shot 39 percent overall, including a 1-for-14 mark from 3-point range, Greene was 9 for 16 from the floor with six offensive boards for the Anteaters (9-4 overall, 5-0 Big West Conference) in the opener of the two-game Big West series. It was UCI’s fifth consecutive win in Honolulu and its seventh in a row against the Rainbow Warriors (4-5, 2-5) at any venue.
There were just four lead changes and three ties, but neither team shot a lot of free throws (UCI missed six of its 12) and the game was tight throughout.
A hook shot from Greene gave the Anteaters a 50-47 lead with 2:29 left, but Hawaii’s James Jean-Marie hit a jumper to make it a one-point game again with 1:39 remaining. Collin Welp split a pair of free-throw attempts with 1:18 left, before the teams combined to miss four shots in a row, with Greene blocking a Jean-Marie layup and corralling the rebound with 23 seconds left.
Isaiah Lee made two free throws with 15 seconds left to give UCI a four-point lead with 15 seconds left, but Hawaii’s Casdon Jardine made a layup with five seconds left, then Lee missed a free-throw attempt before Justin Webster missed a 3-point attempt that could have won it for Hawaii.
“We are pleased with the win and feel fortunate we were able to pull that out even though we shot the ball poorly from three and free throws tonight,” UCI coach Russell Turner said.
“We always say defense and character travel and tonight was a good testament of that because it was a hard game to not be frustrated in. We were shaky with the ball and Hawaii did a great job getting after us and expending our energy. But we defended consistently and gave ourselves a chance to win in the end.”
DJ Davis had eight points and four assists for UCI, while Welp had seven points and five rebounds and Austin Johnson added six points. UCI was just 23 for 59 from the field but held the Warriors to 36.4 percent (20 for 55). Greene’s effort led the Anteaters to a 42-22 advantage in paint points and a 39-32 rebounding advantage that helped them outscore Hawaii 14-4 in second-chance points.
Jardine had 14 points to pace Hawaii, while Jean-Marie finished with 12.
The teams meet again Saturday at 9 p.m. PT in Honolulu.
LOS ANGELES — Collin Welp had 11 points and a career-high 19 rebounds but missed his attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds and UC Irvine lost to Loyola Marymount, 51-48, on Thursday night at LMU’s Gersten Pavilion.
Dameane Douglas had 18 points to lead LMU, which had to hold off the Anteaters down the stretch.
Douglas made a pair of free throws to stretch the Lions’ lead to 50-41 with 2:11 to play, but UCI’s Jeron Artest made a 3-pointer and Justin Hohn converted a layup to pull UCI to within 50-48 with 38 seconds left. LMU’s Eli Scott made one of two free-throw attempts with 10 seconds left to make it a 3-point game and set the scene for Welp to try to force overtime.
Scott had 11 points for LMU (4-3). Mattias Markusson had seven points, and Ivan Alipiev had seven rebounds.
Dawson Baker had 12 points on 6-for-13 shooting for UCI (2-4), and Brad Greene had eight points, four rebounds and three blocked shots.
Neither team shot the ball well. UCI made just 35.6 percent (21 for 59) overall, including a 3-for-13 showing (23 percent) from 3-point range, while LMU was at 35.8 percent (19 for 53) overall and just 2 for 18 (11 percent) from beyond the arc.
LMU held a 40-37 advantage in rebounds and outscored UCI 30-22 in the paint and got to the free-throw line more frequently, going 11 for 19 there while UCI was just 3 for 6. UCI’s 48 points was its worst offensive output since a 2011 game against UC Davis.
A jump shot from Baker followed by a layup from Welp gave UCI a 29-22 lead early in the second half, but LMU used a 13-2 run to take a 35-31 lead with 11:15 left. The Lions stretched the margin to seven points with 4:57 left, before a Hohn 3-pointer got UCI within 45-41 with 4:41 left. LMU went ahead by nine on Douglas’ free throws with 2:11 left, before the Anteaters’ late surge.
“This game represented progress for us in the big picture and that is something we could focus on and take away from that,” said UCI coach Russell Turner, who remains frustrated with his team when it comes to giving up extra possessions off missed free throws and transition defense.
“I am angry with my team and our ability to get free-throw rebounds. I am angry with our lack of commitment to do that because I believe if we did that we could have won this game tonight. I am disappointed in our lack of running back on defense and getting back to defend. That is something that I want to drive home with our team and I need commitment from every guy to do that.”
IRVINE — Dawson Baker made the most of the first start of his UC Irvine career.
The freshman guard had a career-high 21 points to lead five UCI players in double figures as the Anteaters routed La Sierra University of Riverside, 104-54, on Wednesday night at the Bren Events Center.
It was UCI’s second blowout of an overmatched NAIA opponent in less than a week. The Anteaters (2-2) set multiple program records in a 135-55 drubbing of Bethesda University of Anaheim on Saturday night.
“It was a great opportunity for me to start today,” said Baker, a Capistrano Valley High graduate who was 8 for 13 from the field and added five rebounds and four steals in 18 minutes. “I just tried to focus on my defensive play today and I think in turn that helped me with my offensive game.”
Junior forward Collin Welp had 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting, five rebounds and three steals for UCI against La Sierra. Senior center Brad Greene, sophomore guard Jeron Artest and sophomore forward JC Butler (nine rebounds) added 11 points each. Sophomore forward Austin Johnson added nine points and eight rebounds off the bench.
No UCI starter played more than 20 minutes, and all eight reserves played at least six, five of them logging 15 minutes or more.
UCI shot 55.9 percent (38 for 68) from the field and held La Sierra to just 39.6 percent (18 for 48) shooting overall and 29 percent (7-24) from 3-point range. The Anteaters held significant advantages in paint points (58-12), bench points (47-12) and points off turnovers (37-13). UCI also held an 18-6 advantage in steals.
An Artest 3-pointer gave UCI the lead for good with 10:18 left in the first half and started a 12-0 run that gave the Anteaters a 25-14 lead about two minutes later. Following a timeout, Baker fueled a 15-0 run with five points, two steals and an assist in a span of 2:44. The Anteaters scored the last nine points of the half, including five more from Baker and led 51-24 at the intermission.
Artest made a 3-pointer and another jumper to extend the margin to 58-26 in the opening minutes of the second half. La Sierra responded with a 9-4 surge of its own, but UCI followed with a 12-2 run that pushed the lead to 78-42 with 8:03 left.
Freshman guard DJ Davis hit a jumper with 1:13 left to give UCI 100 points for the second consecutive game.
Sophomore forward Uriel Lejtman had 15 points for the Golden Eagles (0-1). Junior forward Duane Darrett Jr. added 11 points, and junior guard Kamien Cedarlind had six rebounds.
UCI plays at USC in a nonconference game on Tuesday (Dec. 8) at 7 p.m.
For the fourth consecutive season – and seventh in the last eight – the UC Irvine men’s basketball team is the choice to win the Big West Conference regular-season title in the preseason media poll.
UCI received 18 first-place votes from the 28-member media panel to top the annual poll with 270 points. UC Santa Barbara finished second with 254 points (nine first-place votes). The remaining first-place nod went to UC Davis, which came in third with 182 points. Hawaii placed fourth with 165 points, followed by UC Riverside in fifth (160) and Long Beach State in sixth (141). First-year Big West member Cal State Bakersfield was seventh. Cal State Northridge (102 points), Cal State Fullerton (95) and Cal Poly (54) rounded out the rest of the poll, respectively.
UC San Diego, in its inaugural season as a Big West member, has started a four-year reclassfication period from NCAA Division II to Division I. The Tritons will not be recognized in the standings, so they were not included in the poll.
UCI (21-11 overall, 13-3 Big West last season), returns 53 percent of its scoring offense and two all-conference players (junior forward Collin Welp and senior center Brad Greene). Coming off their eighth consecutive winning season and a second straight Big West regular-season title, the Anteater roster includes 13 underclassmen and five new faces.
Welp, the 2019-20 Big West Sixth Man of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection, is UCI’s top returning scorer after averaging 13 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting from the field. Last season, Welp led the team in 3-point field goal percentage (44.2 percent) and was second in rebounding (5.9 rpg). Greene averaged 9 points and a Big West-best 7.7 rebounds per game. His 1.4 blocked shots per game ranked second in the conference.
Welp and Long Beach State junior guard Chance Hunter were named to the media’s six-player preseason all-conference team.
Hunter led LBSU (11-21, 6-10 last season) in scoring (13.9 ppg) and ranked in the conference’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding (5.9 rpg), field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage (41.7 percent) last season.
UC Riverside’s Arinze Chidom, UC Davis’ Ezra Manjon and the UCSB duo of JaQuiri McLaughlin and Amadou Sow joined Welp and Hunter on the preseason all-conference team.
UCI opens the season with a neutral site game against Pepperdine on Nov. 25 at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena. The Anteaters square off with host SDSU two days later.
UC Irvine’s John Edgar Jr. dribbles past CSUN’s Darius Brown II during Wednesday’s Big West Conference game at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
UC Irvine’s Evan Leonard pushes past CSUN’s defense and scores two during Wednesday’s Big West Conference game at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
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CSUN’s Lamine Diane tries to score two against UC Irvine but is fouled during Wednesday’s Big West Conference game at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
UC Irvine’s Eyassu Worku maneuver’s past CSUN’s defense and scores during Wednesday’s Big West Conference game at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
CSUN’s Darius Brown II handles the ball against UC Irvine during Wednesday’s Big West Conference game at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
CSUN’s Brendan Harrick passes the ball to Lamine Diane who scores two against UC Irvine during Wednesday’s Big West Conference game at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
UC Irvine’s John Edgar Jr. pushes past CSUN’s defense during Wednesday’s Big West Conference game at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
CSUN’s Lamine Diane drives toward the basket as UC Irvine’s Collin Welp defends during Wednesday’s Big West Conference game at the Bren Events Center. CSUN won 72-70. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
IRVINE — It’s true that UC Irvine entered its Big West Conference men’s basketball game against visiting CSUN on Wednesday having clinched the outright championship and top seed for next week’s conference tournament.
But the Matadors entered as one of the conference’s top teams – tied for second with two others – so the last thing the Anteaters wanted was to go into the conference tournament on a losing note against a quality team they could soon see again.
But that’s what happened as CSUN upset UC Irvine 72-70 before 2,954 at Bren Events Center.
The score was tied 68-68 with 2:18 to play, but the Anteaters’ only points the rest of the way came on a basket by Brad Greene with 55 seconds left. But that only pulled them within 72-70 because by then the Matadors had made four free throws – two each by Terrell Gomez and Elijah Harkless – on one-and-one opportunities for a 72-68 lead.
UCI (21-11 overall, 13-3 Big West) had a shot at the end after CSUN’s Lamine Diane missed the front end of a one-and-one with 30.3 seconds to play. But 3-point attempts by Evan Leonard (with about seven seconds left) and John Edgar Jr. (at the buzzer) did not fall.
The score was tied 35-35 at halftime, which was something for the Anteaters because they trailed 20-4 less than seven minutes into the game.
Although UCI already sealed its No. 1 spot in the conference tournament, the Matadors are battling to get the No. 2 seed.
UCI’s regular season is over, but CSUN has a home game left Saturday against Hawaii.
Harkless led the Matadors (14-17, 9-6) with a game-high 30 points and was thrilled to play such a big role in a huge win.
“I just think it was big for us to come in here and beat them in their place,” he said.
It’s also something the Matadors can take with them into the conference tournament.
“Yeah, I definitely agree,” said Harkless, who also grabbed seven rebounds. “I think just don’t get too high, don’t get too low; that’s with us. They’re another team, just like us. We don’t get afraid of nobody. We came out and beat them and that showed that we have courage.
“They came and put it on us by 30 the first time.”
UCI defeated the Matadors 87-64 on Feb. 22 at CSUN.
Anteaters coach Russ Turner was displeased, to be sure. He gave credit to the Matadors, but …
“We got out-played on our court on Senior Night,” he said. “That’s on us, that’s on me and that’s on all of us. And that’s disappointing. But that’s why you play the games and that’s why the games are interesting.
“We gave in to softness and I thought selfishness tonight and that’s disappointing at this stage for this group who’s been so good throughout their career.”
When the Anteaters bolted to a nine-point lead early in the second half, they had all the momentum. UCI was still ahead by nine at 55-46 with 12:54 to play before the Matadors began their comeback with a 3-pointer by Gomez (12 points) and a put-back by Harkless. A 15-footer by Harkless gave CSUN a 63-61 lead with 5:42 left.
Harkless was 12 for 19 from the field.
Greene led UCI with 14 points and 11 rebounds, Evan Leonard and Collin Welp scored 13 apiece and Tommy Rutherford had 12 points.
Welp didn’t like the way his team came began.
“We came out slow and we didn’t come out doing what Coach Turner coached us to do,” he said. “And it showed, I thought.”
Leonard said when his team took a nine-point lead in the second half, it might have been guilty of taking its foot off the gas.
“Yeah, we definitely let up, I feel like, as a team,” he said.
He also noted his team struggled to defend Harkless.
Turner had an interesting thought when he was asked if his team was not ready to play.
“I think we were probably too ready, if there is such a thing,” he said. “We were maybe over-stimulated or something, I don’t know. It’s not easy to come and perform on Senior Night.
“I think we had such an easy performance against (CSUN) the first time we played them, that maybe there was an expectation that tonight would be a celebration and not a competition. And credit to Northridge, they were good.
“But the formula when we’ve looked really poor is that we settle for jump shots early in possessions that put our transition defense in peril and that’s exactly what we did tonight early in the game and then again when we allowed them to make a big run on us in the second half after we had built a lead doing what we prepared to do.”
Diane contributed 18 points and eight rebounds for CSUN.
Eyassu Worku was held to eight points on 3-for-15 shooting, including a 2-for-8 mark from 3-point range. UCI missed five of its last six shots from the field, four of them from beyond the arc.