IRVINE — When UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russell Turner said after the Anteaters' fourth straight loss Thursday that his team has a funny personality, he didn't mean funny hah-hah.
Instead, he was referring to the recent slump that has coincided with junior star Eric Wise's return to the starting lineup.
Wise, a preseason all-conference pick who strained a hip flexor muscle in the second game at USC, missed five games and came off the bench in two others before starting the last four contests. UCI was 5-2 in games in which he did not play or start.
But despite Wise's best game of the season — he had a season-best 23 points and led the Anteaters (6-8) with six rebounds — UCI failed to overcome an offense lull that began late in the first half and fell to visiting Loyola Marymount, 87-80, in front of 1,306 at the Bren Events Center.
After UCI knotted the score for the ninth time with 1:53 left before halftime, LMU (7-7) ended the half with an 8-0 run.
After UCI senior Patrick Rembert opened the second half with a three-pointer, the Lions scored 13 straight on their way to an eventual 19-point cushion.
UCI rallied to within 68-64 with 5:00 remaining, but three straight layups spurred a 6-0 LMU run that allowed the visitors to pull away.
UCI senior Darren Moore had 21 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists and was two of three from three-point range.
And UCI sophomore Mike Wilder continued to sparkle off the bench, chipping in 12 points and netting three of six from beyond the arc.
But Rembert, who finished two for 11 from the field and has made 11 of 42 field-goal tries during the losing streak (26.2%), was emblematic of some UCI offensive woes that Turner said he will need to figure out.
After Pavol Losonsky's three-pointer made it 29-29 with 3:19 left in the first half, UCI went 10 minutes with only one field goal.
"This team has a funny personality," said Turner, in his first season at the helm. "It has been particularly interesting for me to watch this change as we've reintroduced Eric [into the starting five]. That's not Eric's fault. I've got a strange mix of things going on, it seems like. And I'm not quite sure what it is, but we've got to get to where we're playing better."
Turner expressed disappointment in his players' rebounding (a 37-28 deficit), their mindset, and their inability to overcome shooting woes (39.7% from the field).
"I feel like my team treated the UCLA game [a 74-73 loss Dec. 23] as a win and that's disappointing," Turner said. "For two games now, we've played beneath my competitive standards and I've got to figure out a way to change that … One of the characteristics of my team right now, is when shots aren't falling for us, we don't seem to do other things well either. And that's a quality that disappoints me. It seems like we're a bunch of frontrunners."
Wise was eight of eight from the foul line and Moore sank nine of 10 foul shots to help UCI finish 26 of 28 from the line.
LMU netted 22 of 30 free-throw attempts, including 11 of 15 in the final 2:22, to hold off the hosts.
Lee Viney, a junior out of Villa Park High, had 22 points for the winners. He was seven of 10 from the field, three of five from threedom, and had a game-high 10 boards.
Loyola Marymount 87, UC Irvine 80
LMU – Viney 22, Okonji 4, Teel 20, Ireland 15, Davis 11, Diedrichs 10, Egbeyemi 3, Armstead 2.
3-pt. goals – Viney 3, Ireland 1, Davis 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Wise 23, Losonsky 3, Moore 21, Starring 8, Rembert 7, Wilder 12, Strings 2, McNealy 2, Simek 2.
3-pt. goals – Wilder 3, Moore 2, Losonsky 1, Wise 1, Rembert 1.
Fouled out – Starring.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – LMU, 42-34.