Nearly 33 years ago, Olivia Newton-John released "Physical" which set America on a ridiculous jazzercise fad. The song, while overly synthesized and probably unheard by today's college students, couldn't have been a more appropriate song for what UC Irvine did against UC Santa Barbara tonight. Mamadou Ndiaye, Will Davis II and the rest of the Anteaters got physical and bullied the Gauchos on the court.
It was a rough and tumble first half, as UC Irvine started strong, opening the game to a 13-5 lead. The Gauchos responded with a 9-0 run to push ahead.
From there, it was referee central the rest of the first half. Alan Williams got called for a flop by Luke Nelson which sent him to the bench, and on the other end of the court, Mamadou Ndiaye was whistled for being abnormally tall (specifically turning and trying to shoot).
Toward the end of the half, Sam Beeler got called with offensive interference from going up and trying to dunk on Ndiaye, resulting in his wrist being bounced in and out of the hoop.
At the end of the first half: the Anteaters were only winning 29-27.
It was amazing how UC Santa Barbara stayed in the game the first half, considering Big Al only played 12 minutes due to foul trouble. When the Anteaters seemed like they had control, the Gauchos pushed and countered.
Still, the Anteaters were only 7-23 from the field in the first half and the main reason why they led was because they were 13-14 from the charity stripe (Ndiaye, a 38% free throw shooter, was 3-3).
The second half didn't start well for Ndiaye as he picked up his third and fourth foul within the first minute. UCI held a two point lead until he returned with eight minutes left. As soon as Ndiaye returned, the Anteaters defense stiffened, forcing misses.
With the defense tightened up, the rebounds and points came to finish off the Gauchos. Even with Ndiaye fouling out with less than two minutes left, the Anteaters aggressiveness led to a much-deserved win.
Four players ended up in double-digits for the Anteaters: Chris McNealy was perfect at 17 points (5-5 on FG, 2-2 on FT), followed by Will Davis II (14 points, 8 rebounds), Luke Nelson (13 points) and Ndiaye (11 points). As a team, they shot 24-30 from the line, a whopping third of their total points.
This game will sting even more for the Gauchos, as they now have to finish the season undefeated in order to stay in the No. 2 seed slot.
For the Anteaters, this was the most difficult game of the remainder of the season; they should cruise to a four-game win streak as they finish up with Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton and UC Davis.