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’Eaters rise to seventh

UCI comes through down the stretch to rally past Matadors and is on verge of making eight-team Big West Conference tourney field.

February 27, 2010|By Barry Faulkner

IRVINE — The options not already narrowed by the diminishing schedule were further depleted by excessive fouls for the UC Irvine men’s basketball team Saturday night.

So, after Anteaters’ star Eric Wise fouled out with 1:42 left, just more than five minutes after senior center Zack Atkinson had already been disqualified against visiting Cal State Northridge, there remained little else for UCI Coach Pat Douglass but to see if someone else could come up big.

Enter 6-foot-8 sophomore reserve Adam Folker, who blocked a shot and pounced on the rebound to thwart the Matadors’ attempt to erase a one-point deficit in the closing seconds.

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Folker’s block and sprawling collection of a driving floater by Kenny Daniels with 10.9 seconds left was perhaps the biggest in a string of colossal plays that allowed the ’Eaters to claim a 79-74 Big West Conference triumph in front of 2,620 at the Bren Events Center.

The win pulled UCI (13-16, 5-9 in conference) into a three-way tie for seventh with Northridge (10-19, 5-9) and UC Riverside (12-15, 5-9) with two regular-season conference games remaining.

If things finish as they are now, UCI and Northridge would make the conference tournament’s eight-team field, based on tiebreakers.

But Douglass, whose team ventures to first-place UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday and then finishes at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Saturday, said he would rather not tempt fate by holding any tiebreaker edge.

“Yeah, probably so,” said Douglass when asked if UCI needed one more win to assure itself a place in the conference tournament field.

Wise, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds to post his second straight double-double in 33 minutes, went one further.

“We need two more [wins],” Wise said.

Senior Michael Hunter, who like Atkinson was recognized before tipoff of their final home game, joined junior Darren Moore and Folker as UCI heroes down the stretch.

Hunter netted one foul shot to break a 74-74 tie with 23 seconds remaining, then hit a pair from the line with nine ticks left after Folker came up big and called timeout.

Moore sealed the victory with a pair of free throws with one second left.

Hunter had 22 points, four assists and two steals. He did not have a turnover.

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