IRVINE — Just when it appeared the UC Irvine men’s basketball team was teetering toward the brink of squandering a 20-point lead, the Anteaters stopped at the line.
The foul line that is, where UCI made 20 of 23 free-throw attempts in the final 6:13, 18 of 21 in the last 3:37, to secure an 80-70 nonconference win over Hawaii Wednesday at the Bren Events Center.
UCI (4-3) was 31 for 34 from the line (91.2%), including 24 of 27 after intermission, as the starters made all 19 of their foul shots in the contest.
The ’Eaters had just one field goal in the last 7:04, none in the final 5:17 to help repel the Rainbow Warriors, who methodically slashed a 27-7 deficit within 55-52 with 7:23 left in the game.
“They kept fouling us, so we couldn’t shoot,” said UCI Coach Pat Douglass, who was, perhaps, more pleased by the start of the contest than the finish.
“We got off to a good start,” Douglass said. “We came out and played with energy. This time of year, it’s hard to put ... we’re working toward putting 40 minutes together.”
UCI made its first four field-goal attempts, and 10 of its first 16 en route to create a 20-point bulge with 11:07 left in the first half.
Hawaii opened one for 15 from the field, before settling in and paring the deficit as UCI went scoreless for a span of 6:34.
The hosts were up, 37-22, at the break, thanks in large part to junior Pavol Losonsky going six for six from the field to help fuel a 58.3% shooting percentage. Losonsky had 13 of his team-high 15 points in the first period.
Hawaii used second-half runs of 8-0 and 6-0 to close to within three, but a driving layin by junior reserve Emil Kim with 7:05 remaining was followed by two Eric Wise free throws and a three-pointer by Patrick Rembert to get the advantage back to double digits.
“I thought [Kim] came in and gave us a lift [six point sin two rebounds in 16 minutes, including hitting all three of his field-goal tries],” Douglass said. “And I thought Rembert’s three-point shot was a big bucket in the second half.”
Rembert, a junior guard who came in averaging 2.8 points per game and did not start for the first time in five games, scored all 10 of his points in the second half. He was six for six at the foul line in the final 2:53.
Wise, a sophomore who started at forward, had 10 of his 12 points after halftime. He was particularly effective during about a five-minute stretch in which he had two field goals, an assist, a rebound and took a charge to help restore the lead to 10 with 5:18 left.
UCI was nine for 15 from the field in the final 20 minutes to finish at 59% from the field.
That Anteaters’ 13 turnovers were three more than the visitors committed, but UCI posted a 28-27 rebounding advantage, including a 19-12 edge in the first half.
Wise had a team-best eight rebounds and a career-high seven assists.
Senior center Zack Atkinson finished with 10 points, eight in the first half, and Losonsky chipped in five rebounds.
Junior guard Darren Moore had nine points and Hunter finished with eight.
“At this time of the year, you want to see how your team can respond,” Douglass said. “We had a big gap, they narrowed it and I thought we responded well. It was good to see that we went to the foul line and cashed in our free throws.
“This was a big game for us ... a home game against a [Western Athletic Conference] opponent. So, it was a good win.”
UC Irvine 80, Hawaii 70
Hawaii – Flemings 25, Mayen 8, Balocka 3, Thompson 15, Campbell 2, Adams 15, Lay 2.
3-pt. goals – Flemings 4, Thompson 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – Bench 1.
UC Irvine – Losonsky 15, Wise 12, Atkinson 10, Moore 9, Hunter 8, Rembert 10, Wilder 8, Kim 6, Flowers 2.
3-pt. goals – Moore 1, Rembert 1, Wilder 1.
Fouled out – Losonsky.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – UCI, 37-22.