UCI Gives Rebels a Run for Money
UC Irvine played some basketball, not its predetermined role, Tuesday night. Despite that, the outcome was inevitable. It was just more acceptable.
By the time Nevada Las Vegas’ last, and best run, was over, the Rebels had a 77-55 victory. Yet this was not the light-hearted workout that was expected.
Las Vegas (5-4) lost to Syracuse last Saturday and will host ninth-ranked UCLA this Saturday. Irvine (2-7) was suppose to be the cream-puff filling. The locals certainly must have thought so, as about half the announced 12,913 fans in the Thomas & Mack Center took the night off as well.
“I think they thought they were going to come out, throw the ball up and go home,” said Irvine forward Ben Jones, who had a team-high 15 points. “I think they found out pretty early on that it was not going to be that way.”
With 12 minutes left, the Rebels were clinging to a 47-43 lead. They closed it out with two impressive runs. Las Vegas, which shot 58% in the second half, outscored Irvine, 12-1, to take a 59-44 lead, then later went on a 14-3 tear.
Las Vegas went to a zone defense and the Anteaters went away. They missed five consecutive shots and were five of 24 from the field in the last 12 minutes.
“We haven’t seen a zone all season,” Irvine Coach Pat Douglass said. “Everyone things we can shoot three-pointers.”
Irvine made its first five three-pointers, but was six of 24 for the game.
“It’s a shame that it ended up a 22-point game,” Douglass said. “We showed how tough we can be tonight.”
The Anteaters, who were blown out by Northern Arizona Sunday, made that pretty clear.
In the first half, Kaspars Kambala, the Rebels’ 6-foot-9, 250-pound center, got tied up with Juma Jackson. After the whistle, Kambala swung Jackson to the floor. The 6-4, 180-pound Jackson jumped up and momentarily had to be restrained.
“We can’t let people push us around,” Jackson said.
Three times in the second half, Las Vegas’ players blocked shots inside. Each time, the Irvine player grabbed the ball and scored.
Irvine had 14 offensive rebounds to Las Vegas’ 12. Jackson was particularly effective, as he darted between bigger opponents, scoring twice on tip-ins early in the second. He finished with 11 points and six rebounds--four offensive.
“You got to move really fast in there with those big guys to survive,” Jackson said.
Even walk-on Jason Flowers adopted a no-fear attitude. He scored 10 points, eight in the first half. His three-pointer with two seconds sent the Anteaters into halftime down, 32-29.
The Rebels played hard only in spurts. Irvine took away their meat and potatoes, controlling Kambala, the Rebels’ leading scorer, by surrounding him inside. Kambala got going late, scoring seven of his 14 points in the final seven minutes to help the Rebels pull away.
“We were coming off an emotional Syracuse game and Irvine was going to make us shoot three-pointers,” Rebel Coach Bill Bayno said. “They triple-teamed Kas and we came out really flat.”
It was left to Corky Ausborne to prop up the Rebels at key moments. He finished with 14 points and made four of seven three-pointers. The rest of the Rebels were one of nine on threes.
Ausborne was suppose to see his playing time decrease now that former Anteater Brian Keefe is eligible. Keefe played seven minutes, Ausborne played 31.
Still, the Rebels couldn’t shake Irvine until midway through the second half. Back-to-back baskets by Matt Willard cut the Rebels’ lead to 47-43 with 12:04 left. It was the last wake-up call they would need.