IRVINE — With five teams tied for third place in the Big West Conference entering Thursday night's men's basketball action, balance might be a descriptive word associated with the nine-team league.
But off-balance may be a more fitting assessment of the play of UC Irvine, which continued its schizophrenic tendencies in a 66-62 conference setback to visiting Cal State Northridge in front of a library-like 1,115 at the Bren Events Center.
The Anteaters (10-11, 3-4 in conference), who had been among the aforementioned five-team logjam, fell into a tie for sixth place with the loss, their first in four games. The winning streak had been extended with an upset home win over first-place Long Beach State on Saturday. But any momentum that might have created was truncated by a woeful UCI shooting performance Thursday.
The 'Eaters shot 32.3% from the field (20 for 62) and made just seven of 31 three-point attempts (22.6%). Though veteran starters Eric Wise (20 points and 12 rebounds), Darren Moore (21 points and eight boards) and Patrick Rembert (14 points and four assists), combined to make half of their 36 field-goal tries, the other six who played for the hosts were a combined two for 26 from the field (7.7%).
Sophomore starters Damon Starring (zero for eight) and Mike Wilder (one for 10, including one for nine from beyond the arc), symbolized the Anteaters' shooting difficulty. Wilder was coming off a game in which he had a career-high 24 points and 13 rebounds against Long Beach State.
Conversely, the Matadors (7-13, 4-3), who came in ranked eighth in the conference in three-point shooting, connected on eight of 17 from three-point range (47.1%) and shot nearly 49% overall (23 of 47).
The Northridge three-point success included a pair of banked-in threes by senior guard Rashaun McLemore, who entered the game just two of 18 from threedom in conference play.
McLemore, who banked in a three-pointer midway through the first half, kissed a three ball off the glass from the left wing to beat the shot-clock buzzer with 20 seconds left to put the visitors up, 63-59.
The shot halted a 4-0 UCI run and followed a turnover by the hosts on an inbound pass from under their own basket.
A three-pointer by Wise with three seconds left pulled UCI within 64-62, but Matadors' senior Dathan Lyles sank a pair of free throws with 2.5 seconds left to hand UCI its third home loss in the last month against teams with losing records.
UCI fell to UC Riverside (4-7 at the time) in its conference opener on Dec. 28.
UCI also lost to Loyola Marymount (6-7 at the time) in a Dec. 30 home game.
"I think it's important to realize that every team in this league can beat us," a disconsolate UCI Coach Russell Turner said. "We've proved that twice at home with losses to Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside. They are good teams. They are just as good as we are. In college basketball, you should expect to give your best efforts at home and we haven't been able to do that in these two games and that's disappointing."
UCI seized a 12-4 lead, but Northridge surged back to claim a 41-36 halftime advantage.
The hosts used a 9-1 run to forge a 52-52 tie with 8:25 left, but Northridge countered with a 4-0 spur and never lost the lead again.
UCI, which came in ranked No. 22 nationally among 336 teams in three-point percentage defense (29.8%), won the rebounding battle, 40-33, including 20 offensive rebounds, which matched a season high.
But UCI gave up 10 field goals that were either layups or put-backs, including a dunk and a layup within a 64-second span to senior Lenny Daniel, who had, to that point, been held to eight points, fewer than half of his season average.
"I felt especially disappointed that we let Lenny Daniel have a dunk and a layup coming down the stretch," Turner said. "That was one of the focuses of our team preparation coming into this game."
Turner credited Northridge, which forced 14 turnovers and committed just 10. But he lamented his team's play, particularly its shooting.
"We didn't have enough guys play well," Turner said. "Offensively, we didn't play well. We didn't make a lot of shots and we shot a lot of threes that didn't go in. When you shoot a lot of threes that don't go in, that costs you and it cost us tonight."
UCI had two fast-break points and lost the bench-scoring battle, 34-4, against a Matadors team that repeatedly sent five substitutes in at the same time.
McLemore led the winners with 15 points, topping four Matadors in double figures. Daniel was five of six from the field and had a team-best 10 rebounds.
UCI begins a stretch of three straight conference road games on Saturday at UC Davis.
Big West Conference
Cal State Northridge 66, UC Irvine 62
CSUN – Daniel 12, Mitchell 1, Lyles 14, McGhee 5, Cody 0, McLemore 15, Quinn 10, Eteuati 3, Greene 3, Hayward-Mayhew 2, Lizarraga 1.
3-pt. goals – Lyles 2, McLemore 2, Quinn 2, McGhee 1, Eteuati 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Wise 20, Moore 21, Rembert 14, Wilder 3, Starring 0, Kim 2, Simek 2.
3-pt. goals – Moore 3, Rembert 2, Wilder 1, Wise 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – CSUN, 41-36.