UC Irvine's game Wednesday night wasn't so much about winning and losing. After all, it was Humboldt State.
What made the Anteaters' 89-65 victory a bit noteworthy was who was in uniform and who was in pain. Not to mention, who played and who didn't.
Freshman Matt Okoro, ticketed for a redshirt year of clapping on the bench at home games, not only suited up but started for the Anteaters. At times, he appeared to need a map and compass. At times, he just needed a nice landing pad.
After a scoreless first half, Okoro finished with eight points and seven rebounds. It helped, considering that power forward Marek Ondera missed almost all the second half with a deep contusion in his left thigh.
Ondera, the Anteaters' leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, also has been slowed by a back injury--a big reason for Okoro getting a uniform.
The game itself went as scripted. Jerry Green (19 points) scored 13 of Irvine's first 15 points and the Lumberjacks wilted under three first-half runs. The Anteaters cruised in the second half with Sean Jackson, benched the first half for missing Monday's practice, scoring 11 points.
The final minute, though, was all about Okoro.
He blocked a dunk attempt by Humboldt State's Bobby Caruthers--a neat trick, made a jaw-dropper because Okoro jumped high enough to slap the ball down.
A moment later, Okoro drove, dribbling with his right hand, then palmed the ball with his left hand for a swooping dunk.
"That was probably the last surprise of the millennium," said guard Zamiro Bennem, who had 11 points. "Everyone was surprised with how Matt played. He wasn't nervous at all."
Actually, he just hid his feelings.
"I was nervous," said Okoro, a 6-foot-7 power forward from Buena Park High. "Coach [Pat Douglass] told me on Monday that I was going to suit up, but that didn't make me nervous. [Wednesday morning] we were doing our preparations and coach called my name with the starters. I was shocked, but I wasn't nervous. Then I got out there in front of all those people and I was nervous."
A Bren Center-usual 956? All those people? Okoro obviously has much to learn about college basketball.
He does, though, possess the raw ability.
"He's going to be an excellent player down the road," Douglass said. "And he can dunk the ball like you've never seen."
Ondera winced in pain while getting a rebound during the first half and left less than a minute into the second half after taking a knee in the thigh and didn't return.
Adam Stetson, Ondera's backup, is out at least another month with a collapsed lung.