IRVINE — UC Irvine has shuffled, sweat and sacrificed all men's basket ball season to foster its reputation as a hard-nosed defensive team that grinds on seemingly every possession.
But for a stretch of just more than five minutes, midway through the second half Wednesday night against Pacific, the Anteaters nearly saw that label washed away under an avalanche of three-point baskets.
With the score tied, 38-38, UCI made four straight three-pointers and converted six of seven scoring possessions with field goals from beyond the arc to assume a 58-47 lead. The hosts held on for a 68-57 Big West Conference victory that lifts them into a tie for third with idle Hawaii.
UCI (15-13, 9-6 in conference) also remained unbeaten in eight conference home games and upped its home record this season to 11-1. UCI is also 9-0 this season when holding its opponent to fewer than 60 points.
Senior Mike Wilder began the perimeter barrage with back-to-back three-pointers within a 19-second span, the second with 11:18 left in the game.
After the Tigers scored inside, Travis Souza connected from threedom on successive possessions for the 'Eaters, using 47 seconds to accumulate all six of his points. After a Will Davis layin put UCI up, 53-42, with 8:02 left, UCI freshman Alex Young, then senior Daman Starring drained consecutive three balls and UCI had an insurmountable cushion.
"We've had games where we all shot well, throughout the entire game," said Starring, who led the winners with 16 points, including two of four from threedom. "But that was just a quick burst [in which] we shot really well."
Starring, who is now nine for 13 from beyond the arc the last two games, said it was the best shooting stretch of the season for the Anteaters, who made their final six three-point tries to finish eight of 16 from beyond the arc.
Wilder, who added a three-pointer late in the first half to help secure UCI's 30-26 lead at the break, was three for five from beyond the arc and did not even have a two-point try. Souza and Starring had a pair of threes, while Young, the lone starter not to score in double figures with four, completed the 'Eaters' outside outburst. Young did have a team-best five assists.
"That was the best stretch we've had making shots all season," said UCI Coach Russell Turner, who also praised his team's performance in other areas. "Our team won the way we've shown we can win and that's by guarding at a high level. We also rebounded well, passed the ball and made a run because we made some threes, which was key."
UCI had made just four field goals over a nearly 12-minute stretch spanning the two halves, before the eruption from distance.
"We definitely needed a spark at that point in the game, " Starring said. "[Wilder] hit one on the left side, then another one on the right side. And then [Souza, who is 18 for 33 from beyond the arc this season] followed suit. It was huge."
UCI, the conference leader in field-goal-percentage defense, held UOP (15-11, 9-5) to 33.3% shooting (19 for 57), including just four of 17 from three-point range (23.5%).
UCI also won the battle on the glass, 40-37.
Adam Folker and Davis scored 13 points each, while Folker had 13 of the tandem's 21 rebounds to balance the outside game with an inside presence.
Wilder finished with 12 points for the winners, who with three straight triumphs have matched their biggest winning streak of the season.
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 68, Pacific 59
UOP – Fulton 2 Kelley 0, McCloud 11, Beatty 5, Taku 4, Gill 17, De Souza 9, Duran 6, Turner 3, Harris 2.
3-pt. goals – Duran 1, Turner 1, Beatty 1, McCloud 1.
Fouled out – Kelley.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Davis 13, Folker 13, Starring 16, Wilder 12, Young 4, Souza 6, Flowers 2, McNealy 2.
3-pt. goals – Wilder 3, Starring 2, Souza 2, Young 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – UCI, 30-26.
Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun