UC Irvine took nine Big West Conference victories into its game this Saturday against CSUN. Only one — a 66-62 win Jan. 12 at UC Santa Barbara — was what one would consider close.
That’s one of the reasons why coach Russ Turner was pleased after his team held off CSUN in an 83-80 victory at Bren Events Center.
Yes, the victory allowed the Anteaters to remain in a first-place tie with UC Davis with two games to play this week ahead of next week’s conference tournament. It was more than that though.
“We made our free throws, we did the things down the stretch in a close game that we need to do,” Turner said. “And that’s important for this team to go through.
“We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve been able to stretch a lead, and we need to win close games if we want to accomplish the goals that we have for this team over the next two weeks.”
Irvine’s four conference losses were by two, nine, nine and 13 points.
The Anteaters (17-13, 10-4) will play at 7 p.m. Wednesday at UC Riverside (7-19, 5-10) and will finish the regular season by hosting UC Davis (18-11, 10-4) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Senior guard Jaron Martin, who scored 28 points Saturday, knows what the situation calls for.
“We’ve got two more games left, and we’ve gotta go out with a bang,” he said.
Matadors struggling without Lubin
CSUN was 6-3 in conference before 6-foot-8, 257-pound sophomore Rakim Lubin sustained a torn right Achilles in a Feb. 4 game against Hawaii. The Matadors lost that game, as well as three of the next four to fall to 7-7.
Lubin averaged 8.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 23 games and 11 starts, averaging 18.2 productive minutes. Moreover, his wide body was difficult for opponents to handle.
“He causes double teams, and we have nobody to go to the post now,” coach Reggie Theus said of Lubin’s loss. “That’s what our problem is right now. But our guys are fighting, man, and that’s all we can do.”
CSUN averages 35.5 rebounds a game. But the Matadors have averaged just 31.6 the past five games, including the game against Hawaii in which Lubin played just two minutes.
With Lubin on Jan. 21, the host Matadors were walloped 105-73 by Irvine . CSUN’s showing minus Lubin in Saturday’s rematch shows the spirit of which Theus speaks. Besides, his team still has plenty of offensive firepower and the conference tournament looms.
“What happened three weeks ago up at our place against these guys didn’t matter because we still have to play them possibly in the conference tournament, and that’s all that matters,” Theus said.
CSUN women can shake up standings
The UC Davis (21-6, 12-2) women are in first place with two games to play, with Long Beach State (20-9, 11-3) a game back and third-place CSUN (17-11, 10-4) two behind.
CSUN, which has won nine consecutive games behind the fine play of sophomore center Channon Fluker, will have a lot to say about how this regular season ends. The Matadors play Thursday at Long Beach, then finish by hosting UC Davis on Saturday.
Fluker is averaging 17.2 points — tied with Rejane Verin of UC Riverside for the Big West lead — and a conference-best 11.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
Players of the Week
The Big West’s Players of the Week are both from UC Davis. Senior guard Brynton Lemar won the men’s award by averaging 26.5 points in victories over CSUN (96-85) and Long Beach State (75-71, OT). He was 8 of 11 from 3-point range in the win over CSUN.
Junior forward Pele Gianotti took the women’s honor by averaging 22 points in victories over Cal Poly (83-75) and UC Santa Barbara (70-61).
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