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Men's Basketball: Wilder sinks Gauchos

Senior's three-pointer with 8.7 seconds left keys dramatic Big West home win over UCSB.

February 02, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(Courtesy of UCI…)

IRVINE — Saturday was the annual promotion that brings hundreds of elementary school kids to the Bren Events Center for a statistics-based math competition. But at the bottom line against visiting UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russell Turner said it was the man he counts upon most who was able to make the difference.

UCI senior Mike Wilder, who had missed his previous 10 three-point attempts, dating back to the first half of the Jan. 26 loss at Long Beach State, netted a three-pointer with 8.7 seconds left to propel the Anteaters to a 62-60 Big West Conference triumph in front of 3,430 emotionally drained spectators.

"You've got to have a pure heart to make that shot," Turner said of Wilder's first game-winner as an Anteater. "There were a couple places [Chris McNealy, who drove into the lane before kicking back out to Wilder near the top of the three-point arc] could have gone on the kick pass, but I'm pretty good with who he went to. That's probably who I would have thrown it to … I've seen Mike Wilder make a lot of big shots down the stretch, so it wasn't a surprise [he made that one]. He has not shot the ball as well this year as in his previous two years [28.9% this season before the game-winner]. But he is an incredible competitor, with as much character as any guy or player that we've got or that I've seen."

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Wilder, whose 192 career three-pointers rank fourth in UCI career annals, said he was up to the task.

"When [Taran Brown] made that shot before we called timeout [a 12-foot baseline turnaround that put the visitors up, 60-59, for their first lead since 5-4 with 21 seconds left] I told myself if the ball comes to me, this needs to go in," Wilder said. "I need to cash this. [McNealy] found me and my teammates have all the confidence in the world in me. They always tell me never to stop shooting. I shot it, it felt good and it went in … My confidence was good, actually. I know I hadn't hit a [three-point] shot up to that point, but in that moment, I just knew that if it came to me, I needed to put it through."

When Wilder connected, the crowd erupted in a deafening roar that made it impossible for even Wilder to hear his trademark exultation that follows all of his big shots.

"I just yell 'Let's go!,'" Wilder said. "It's something to get me more pumped up, more hyped-up during the games. "The noise was insane. Not very many times have I heard it that loud in the Bren, and it was nice to see."

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