IRVINE — With a team more identified for determined defense and rebounding than putting on a offensive show, UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russell Turner is plenty entertaining in and of himself.
Stalking the sideline, removing his jacket, scratching his head over his team's miscues, and exhorting – always exhorting his Anteaters – Turner, at least a couple times each half, outdoes players 20 years his junior, when it comes to expending energy.
It wasn't exactly energy the host Anteaters lacked in a 66-60 nonconference loss to LSU on Tuesday. But Turner seemed to have a pretty good idea about what areas in which his team was deficient in its first home setback of the season.
"If you had told me we would have held [the Tigers] to 66 [points], I would have told you we would have won tonight," said Turner, who lamented his team's occasional lack of assertiveness against an Southeastern Conference brand of defensive quickness that is scarce in the Big West Conference.
"The difference in the game, clearly, was their ability to steal the ball from us and convert their steals into fast-break points," Turner said. "When we got to half court, we guarded them really well. We are probably the best defensive team they've played."
LSU (7-1), which posted its first road win in two tries, had a 10-0 advantage on fast-break points and a 21-12 edge in points off turnovers. It forced 17 turnovers while committing 11, which helped it overcome a 50-43 rebounding deficit against the 'Eaters.
The Tigers used an 8-0 run to build an early lead after the hosts (5-7 after experiencing their first setback in four home games this season) took their only lead at 3-2.
LSU led by as many as 13, but UCI pulled within three twice after intermission, including 62-59 with 48 seconds left on a Daman Starring three-pointer. But as seemed to happen every time UCI put together a string of success, it sabotaged its upset hopes with a turnover, a missed shot, or a missed rebound opportunity, often prompting a visible reaction from Turner.
"I've got to be careful about that, because I'm excitable," Turner said of his demonstrative sideline behavior. "Our guys are playing hard. The thing that frustrates me are the mistakes we make that we are focused on not making. That's what I get rowdy about. I hope my guys know that. I think they know that's my motivation."
UCI, which came in ranked ninth nationally in field-goal-percentage defense, held the Tigers to season-worst .371 shooting percentage from the field and a season-low point total.
"Defense and rebounding are areas our team has significantly improved upon over last year," Turner said. "We've got to turn that into wins and I think we will as our offense continues to improve. Right now, our offense is not as far along as our defense.
"It's L.A.; people don't get excited about defense. I understand, but that's going to be a path for us taking another step to rebuild our program and be consistently good. Hopefully, that's going to pay dividends when our guys get some confidence on offense."
Senior center Adam Folker led UCI with 13 points, while adding six rebounds. He made five of eight field-goal attempts and was three for four from the foul line to lift his season free-throw accuracy to 25% (sinking nine of 36).
Senior Mike Wilder had nine points and 11 rebounds, while junior Chris Menially (nine points, five rebounds and three assists) and senior Derrick Flowers (four points, five rebounds and four assists) both added a spark off the UCI bench.
Eight Anteaters scored, but nine committed at least one turnover, led by freshman Alex Young, Wilder and Folker with three each. UCI finished 25 of 67 from the field (37.3%), but missed eight of 11 second-half three-pointers as if plodded uphill.
Junior guard Andre Stringer led the winners with 19 points, while junior reserve forward Shaven Coleman chipped in 13 points and 11 rebounds. Johnny O' Bryant, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, had 13 rebounds and nine points to just miss a fourth straight double-double.
UCI closes out its pre-conference schedule on Thursday at USC. The 'Eaters open Big West play at home on Dec. 29 against UC Davis.
LSU 66, UC Irvine 60
LSU – O' Bryant 9, Del Piero 0, Stringer 19, Cartouche 7, Collins 6, Coleman 13, Hickey 10, Ham mink 2.
3-pt. goals – Stringer 3, Collins 2, Hickey 2, Cartouche 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Davis 6, Wilder 9, Folker 13, Young 9, Starring 8, Menially 9, Flowers 4, Clifford 2.
3-pt. goals – Wilder 3, Starring 2.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – LSU, 34-26.