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UCI feels the roar, wins

Anteaters, fueled by biggest home crowd in nearly four years, topple first-place 49ers, as Wilder leads way with 24 points.

January 22, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com
(Kent Treptow / Daily…)

IRVINE — Having cut his coaching teeth in big-time programs at Wake Forest and Stanford, as well as the NBA, first-year UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russell Turner knows the swell of emotion that can stir in an arena.

And while the biggest Bren Events Center crowd in nearly four years (4,070) helped heighten the euphoria surrounding the Anteaters' 86-76 upset of Big West Conference-leading Long Beach State on Saturday, Turner wanted to make sure he did everything he could to accentuate the groundswell of support.

After a timeout followed a 5-0 UCI run that broke a 49-49 tie and gave the hosts the lead for good with 10:40 left in the contest, Turner walked off the bench, onto the court and past his players near the jump circle. He cast his gaze on the most vocal portion of the student section and, with palms to the scoreboard, flapped his arms, exhorting perhaps the biggest roar the program has had in a long time.

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That roar got louder still, thanks to an energetic and productive performance by the Anteaters (10-10, 3-3 in conference), who remain in a third-place logjam with three other teams.

Long Beach State, which opened the conference 6-0, has now lost two straight and fallen to 11-10, 6-2.

UCI sophomore Mike Wilder, who grew up in Long Beach, had a career-high 24 points and 13 rebounds to lead the winners.

Senior Darren Moore chipped in 21 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three assists, while junior Eric Wise had 21 points, on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, before fouling out having played 26 minutes.

"There's no question the crowd played a part in it," said Turner, who was with the Golden State Warriors when UCI last had a bigger home crowd (4,374 against Cal State Northridge on Feb. 3, 2007). "That was the first time I've really felt that overwhelming momentum from the crowd here. That was fun. Man, I've got to find out how to generate that more often."

Moore called it the biggest win in his time at Irvine and Wilder said the crowd, a couple dozen of whom wore wigs to mirror his thick afro and chanted "Afro Thunder," when Wilder made his many contributions, said the crowd fed the UCI players energy.

"It feels like we need that around here," Turner said of the crowd participation, which included about 100 spectators storming the court after the final buzzer. "We need some kind of swagger, confidence, whatever, to draw people's curiosity or something.

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