RENO, Nev. — No game showed better how far UC Irvine still has to go to rebuild. No game showed better just how far the Anteaters have come.
It was that kind of double-edged game--and season--for the Anteaters (9-18).
Left for dead at halftime, Irvine threw a scare into Nevada, which had a 24-point, second-half lead cut to single digits before coming away with an 81-72 victory Friday in the Lawlor Events Center.
Had Wolf Pack point guard Robin Kennedy not scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the last two minutes, it might be Irvine playing against Pacific today in the Big West Tournament semifinals. But Kennedy sank a three-pointer, made six free throws and scored on a layup on a dipsy-doodle move to keep the Anteaters at a distance.
"I have never been 9-18 before," first-year Coach Pat Douglass said. "But I have never worked so hard to be 9-18."
Irvine was 1-25 a year ago and came a long way this season--and in Friday's game.
The Anteaters reached the conference tournament, their season goal. That We're-Just-Happy-To-Be-Here feeling dissipated pretty quick. In just 1 minute 37 seconds, the Anteaters understood just how difficult it would be to win the conference tournament, as Nevada scored the first seven points. By halftime, the Wolf Pack, playing in front of its home crowd, was shooting 62% and led, 45-26.
"Their post players were scoring layups and their guards were scoring layups," Douglass said. "I don't if they were focused or they just kicked our booty."
Irvine kicked back.
Nevada (16-11) extended its lead to, 54-30, with 16:19 left. The Anteaters, who folded in just about every game last season, rallied.
Nevada's Paul Culbertson was called for an offensive foul, then was hit with a technical after throwing the ball at an official with 3 minutes 31 seconds left. Adam Stetson's free throw cut the Wolf Pack lead to eight, 63-55. Kennedy took over.
After Irvine's Lamarr Parker was called for traveling, Kennedy sank a three-pointer. The Anteaters got as close as seven, as Andrew Carlson scored seven of his career-high 19 points in the last 1:30. But Kennedy made six free throws, then came down on a fast break, faked to Jimmy Carroll, and scored on a layup.
"From our standpoint, the game was jeopardized in the last four minutes of the first half," Douglass said. "The lead went from four to 19. We kept calling time out and telling the kids to keep it close and we would make a run in the second half. We got too far behind."
The Wolf Pack started the first half strong, scoring the first seven points, and finished in a flurry, scoring the last 12.
Center Marvin Wilson was five of six from the field and scored 13 of his 14 points in the first half. He has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games.
"We had heard he was playing well," Douglass said. "He was a man inside."
Wilson had three dunks. Kennedy, the Wolf Pack's starting point guard, fed Wilson three times for baskets and had six of his eight assists by halftime.
Reserve point guard Lamont Allen, who damaged UCI earlier this season in a Nevada victory, hurt it again. He made all three of his shots and had three assists.