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'Eaters' losses mount

UCI, playing without injured Wise, falls at Cal State Fullerton, which dominates inside.

February 03, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com

FULLERTON — Perhaps the hamstring injury that sidelined Eric Wise Thursday is cruelly symbolic for the UC Irvine men's basketball team.

The absence of the junior standout, who had five double-doubles in his previous six games, including a career-high 34 points to go with 12 rebounds in Saturday's double-overtime road loss, is just the latest setback to leave the Anteaters hamstrung this season.

In Thursday's 80-74 Big West Conference loss at Cal State Fullerton, Wise's inside presence was missed on both ends of the floor, as the Titans (9-14, 5-5 in conference) collected seven of their final 10 field goals on put-backs or layups. Included in that number was a three-point play after a missed free throw with 33 seconds left that virtually sealed the Anteaters' fate.

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The loss drops UCI (10-13, 3-6) into a three-way tie for last place in the nine-team conference.

But yet another scoring lull — a span of nearly 12 minutes in the first half in which UCI converted only two field goals and scored six points — was an all-too-familiar shortcoming for the visitors, who have lost three straight as they travel to Cal State Northridge on Saturday.

During the drought, Fullerton turned a 14-11 deficit into a 14-point lead.

UCI Coach Russ Turner also addressed what he said was a lack of enthusiasm in the first 20 minutes, that allowed the Titans to snap a two-game losing streak.

"We dug ourselves too big a hole in the first half," Turner said after the Titans created a 38-28 edge at intermission. "I feel like we didn't have the appropriate level of play in the first half. We were too passive offensively. We turned it over too easily. And, defensively, it's like we weren't out there."

Senior Darren Moore and sophomore Mike Wilder helped the Anteaters rally in the second half. UCI pulled even at 63-63 on a Wilder three-pointer with 6:20 remaining.

But Fullerton responded with a 7-0 run and withstood another late UCI challenge that included a brief chance to seize the lead before Orane Chin's follow shot on the missed front end of a one-and-one free-throw situation.

Chin snatched the carom off the front of the rim over the back of Wilder and converted the layin while being fouled. His subsequent free throw put the hosts up, 77-72, with 33 seconds left.

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