IRVINE — Having cut his coaching teeth in big-time programs at Wake Forest and Stanford, as well as the NBA, first-year UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russell Turner knows the swell of emotion that can stir in an arena.
And while the biggest Bren Events Center crowd in nearly four years (4,070) helped heighten the euphoria surrounding the Anteaters' 86-76 upset of Big West Conference-leading Long Beach State on Saturday, Turner wanted to make sure he did everything he could to accentuate the groundswell of support.
After a timeout followed a 5-0 UCI run that broke a 49-49 tie and gave the hosts the lead for good with 10:40 left in the contest, Turner walked off the bench, onto the court and past his players near the jump circle. He cast his gaze on the most vocal portion of the student section and, with palms to the scoreboard, flapped his arms, exhorting perhaps the biggest roar the program has had in a long time.
That roar got louder still, thanks to an energetic and productive performance by the Anteaters (10-10, 3-3 in conference), who remain in a third-place logjam with three other teams.
Long Beach State, which opened the conference 6-0, has now lost two straight and fallen to 11-10, 6-2.
UCI sophomore Mike Wilder, who grew up in Long Beach, had a career-high 24 points and 13 rebounds to lead the winners.
Senior Darren Moore chipped in 21 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three assists, while junior Eric Wise had 21 points, on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, before fouling out having played 26 minutes.
"There's no question the crowd played a part in it," said Turner, who was with the Golden State Warriors when UCI last had a bigger home crowd (4,374 against Cal State Northridge on Feb. 3, 2007). "That was the first time I've really felt that overwhelming momentum from the crowd here. That was fun. Man, I've got to find out how to generate that more often."
Moore called it the biggest win in his time at Irvine and Wilder said the crowd, a couple dozen of whom wore wigs to mirror his thick afro and chanted "Afro Thunder," when Wilder made his many contributions, said the crowd fed the UCI players energy.
"It feels like we need that around here," Turner said of the crowd participation, which included about 100 spectators storming the court after the final buzzer. "We need some kind of swagger, confidence, whatever, to draw people's curiosity or something.
"We have an opportunity with the fans, to show emotion and the passion that really defines college basketball. I think you've got to show it. Players, coaches, everybody. That's what makes the sport great."
UCI made half of its 50 field-goal attempts, including an identical percentage on its 18 three-pointers.
Wilder was four of six from beyond the arc and made all 10 of his foul shots.
UCI had 18 assists and 16 turnovers, eight of which came on offensive fouls, and held the 49ers to 40.6% field-goal shooting.
UCI led, 33-28, before the visitors ended the half on a 9-2 run to claim a two-point halftime edge.
Wilder opened the second half with a four-point play and hit another three with 14:06 left that put UCI on top, 49-47, while also matching his previous career high of 18 points.
Wilder and Wise carried the UCI offense until Moore produced 12 points in the final 6:05, including sinking nine of 10 free throws in the final 2:20 to secure the win.
"We had big-time performances from a number of players," said Turner, who praised his three 20-point scorers, as well as Patrick Rembert (defense) and Damon Starring (six assists).
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 86, Long Beach State 76
LB St. – Phelps 17, Robinson 13, Plater 18, Anderson 17, Ware 7, Nevens 2, Dervisevic 2.
3-pt. goals – Plater 4.
Fouled out –Anderson, Ware.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Wise 21, Moore 21, Wilder 24, Rembert 5, Starring 3, McNealy 6, Simek 4, Flowers 2.
3-pt. goals – Wilder 4, Moore 3, Rembert 1, Starring 1.
Fouled out – Wise.
Technicals – Wise 1.
Halftime – LB St. , 37-35.