IRVINE — UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russell Turner said his game plan called for speeding the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs up in order to slow them down.
It made sense the way he explained it. But it was clear, once again, after UCI dropped its fifth straight Big West men's basketball game Thursday at the Bren Events Center, that the Anteaters are anything but in rhythm.
Cal Poly had just seven turnovers in its 80-71 triumph Thursday, to 11 for UCI.
The Anteaters won the turnover battle, 15-8, in their 65-53 win in San Luis Obispo less than a month ago.
That first-round victory over the Mustangs initiated a three-game conference winning streak.
But things have gone south for UCI since. The Anteaters (10-15, 3-8 in conference), remain tied with UC Davis for last place in the nine-team Big West Conference.
With five conference games left, UCI is battling not to be the odd team out of the eight-team Big West postseason tournament.
But battling is not their problem.
"I think we do fight," Turner said of his team, which continuously rallied in a game that featured eight lead changes and five ties. UCI, playing in stretches with five guards, used a 10-0 run to take a 51-44 lead with 12:39 left in the game.
But the visitors countered with an 11-1 spurt as the two teams traded surges.
UCI led, 58-57, with 7:16 left, but Cal Poly mounted an 11-2 burst over the next three minutes to leave the 'Eaters in search of answers.
"I'm frustrated because I don't think we played … for us to win, we've got to play defense as a team," Turner said. "And to allow Cal Poly to shoot [53.3%] in the second half …
"As much as we tried to go at them, they didn't turn it over. We only got two steals for the game, which surprises me. That was the difference in the first game — we got steals, turned [the Mustangs] over and created offense for us. We didn't do that tonight, so we didn't win.
"The disappointing thing for me is that we've gotten worse defensively," Turner said. " I feel like some of that may have to do with our size issues [6-foot-6 junior Eric Wise missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury], but I don't think that's the real problem. Whether we played man or zone, we allowed them to get to the paint and to the rim. That was not what I was hoping for."
UCI had the most difficulty stopping senior guard Shawn Lewis (15 of his 25 points before halftime] and junior forward David Hanson (all 14 of his points in the final 16 minutes, after two fouls limited him to no shots in seven first-half minutes).
Hanson hit three three-pointers within a span of 2:35 that gave Cal Poly a 53-52 edge.
Senior Darren Moore paced UCI with 19 points, while senior guard Patrick Rembert added 18.
Sophomore Mike Wilder had 13 points and senior Pavol Losonsky chipped in 11, while matching Wilder with a team-high seven rebounds.
Will Donahue, a 6-8 junior, had 17 rebounds to go with his 13 points, as four Cal Poly starters scored in double figures.
The Mustangs posted a 20-3 margin in points off turnovers.
UCI will try to snap its longest losing streak of the season when it plays host to UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Big West Conference
Cal Poly SLO 80, UC Irvine 71
CPSLO – Hanson 14, Donahue 13, S. Lewis 25, Love 14, O'Brien 9, J. Lewis 5.
3-pt. goals – Hanson 3, Love 2, S. Lewis 2, J. Lewis 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Losonsky 11, Moore 19, Rembert 18, Wilder 13, Starring 4, Flowers 2, McNealy 2, Kim 2.
3-pt. goals – Wilder 2, Losonsky 2, Moore 1, Rembert 1.
Fouled out – Starring.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – CPSLO, 36-35.