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Edgy 'Eaters top Titans

UCI forces 24 turnovers and Rembert and Wilder lead balanced scoring effort in Big West Conference triumph.

January 05, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com
(Don Leach / Daily…)

IRVINE — Sometimes having an edge can help a team bridge the perceived gap between desperation and necessity.

The UC Irvine men's basketball team, pushed to the precipice of a foreboding Big West Conference start, found a way to go right to the edge, without falling off a competitive cliff Wednesday night.

The result was an 85-78 Big West win over visiting Cal State Fullerton that evened the Anteaters' conference record and halted a four-game losing streak.

Heading into a four-game road swing that begins Saturday at conference-leading Long Beach State, a second consecutive home loss would have been devastating for first-year coach Russell Turner's squad.

"I felt it," Turner said of the extra pregame intensity after his team fell to visiting UC Riverside in the conference opener Dec. 28, "and I imagine our guys did. That's a difficult thing as a coach. You want your team on that edge, but not over it. And I'd rather be over it than not quite to it, I guess. So, we've got to figure that out for ourselves."

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UCI (7-8, 1-1 in conference) figured out a way to harass the Titans (5-10, 1-2) into committing a season-worst 24 turnovers. Fullerton had just three turnovers in its home win over Pacific Thursday and had averaged just more than nine turnovers in its previous four games.

The Anteaters' defensive intensity produced a season-best 15 steals and helped them post a 10-0 advantage in fast-break points.

The strong defense, against which the Titans had 15 first-half turnovers, five on their first five possessions, also allowed UCI to overcome a shooting and rebounding disadvantage.

Sophomore Mike Wilder, starting for senior Pavol Losonsky, who missed the game due to illness, and senior Patrick Rembert, led five UCI scorers in double figures.

Wilder, whose three-pointer with 54 seconds left created a 77-70 lead, finished with 17 points, one shy of his career high. He was five of eight from the field and three of five from three-point range, while chipping in four rebounds, two steals and one assist.

Rembert, who had been shooting 26.2% from the field in his four previous games (11 for 42), did not miss a shot in the opening half and finished with 20 points, one shy of his career high. Rembert, who was five of eight from the field and eight of nine from the foul line, led the winners with five assists and five steals, while committing just four turnovers.

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