You've got to give credit where credit is due. UC Irvine brought a tough and experienced team led by last year's Big West Player of the Year, Jerry Green. A 6'3" senior guard, he went undrafted in this years NBA draft but was eligible to return because he never hired an agent. UC Irvine should thank their lucky stars for that. He scored 41 points and was absolutely phenomenal.
Well, after the first 14 minutes of first half, that is.
At about the 7 minute mark of the first period, I was thinking to myself, "Man, we have really contained this guy. I can't believe he was Big West Conference Player of the Year. This guy wouldn't even make first team in the WCC!" At that point he only had one point, had three turnovers and had missed both of his field goals.
Unfortunately for Pepperdine, he just exploded after that by scoring 13 points in the next six minutes. He would finish the game with a career high in points by shooting 57% from the field, 4-5 from three-point range and 13-15 from the line.
He wasn't the only one playing inspired basketball for the Anteaters, however, as Adam Parada and Stanislav Zuzak pretty much dominated the interior both offensively and defensively. Together they totaled 16 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Most of those stats were created by Parada, but just Zuzak's presence was a factor. Mike Hood and Jordan Harris also played solid scoring 13 and 18 points, respectively. Hood saved the game for UCI when he sank a three at the end of the first overtime to tie the score 82-82 with only 2.0 seconds left.
As for the Waves, if they showed anything during the game it was heart and perserverance. Honestly, their defense was horrible in the first half as they allowed penetration along the baseline on several occasions. They looked scatter-brained as the Anteaters' experience and composure helped them slow the tempo. The officiating wasn't helping matters, either, as it was inconsistent at best. Traveling, ticky-tack foul, no call ... traveling, ticky-tack foul, no call. It was bad from both sides but was hurting the Waves more because of their aggressiveness. At the end of 20:00, UCI led the Waves by six. Pepperdine should have felt lucky.
Strangely enough, the first half didn't start off all that badly for the Waves. Craig Lewis was 2-3 from 3-point range early in the game. His two makes were set shots. His lone miss was off the dribble. He was clearly the hot hand, but suddenly he was pulled and wasn't seen again until the last couple of minutes in the half. He played only 8 minutes in the period. Buoyed by the play of Lewis, Jimmy Miggins and their athletic dominance over a much slower Anteaters team, the Waves were able to hold a lead during a good portion of the first half. That's when Green stepped in.
The second half was much better for the Waves defensively as they stepped up the pressure. Head coach Paul Westphal seemed to have stabilized the team during halftime. Instead of running around aimlessly, they were deliberate and confident. In turn the pressure was eating up UCI and the Waves were making steals and getting shots off the transition. Unfortunately too many of those shots didn't go down. Easy layups and fast breaks were negated by good fouls and bad shooting.
Good or bad defense, however, Green was unstoppable and his shooting and Pepperdine's lack of any inside game were keeping the Anteaters from losing the lead. But the Waves pressure really started to affect UCI and eventually a string of three pointers brought them to within striking distance. Montgomery hit a nice three to tie the score at 74-74. It would end that way in regulation.
In the first overtime, it was duel of threes. The Waves took the lead again on a 3-pointer by Boomer Brazzle at 77-76. Green answered with a three of his own to retake the lead at 77-79. Only moments later Terrance Johnson made a sweet shot from behind the arc to give the Waves an 80-79 lead. After the Waves scored two more points to take an 82-79 lead and almost assure themselves a win, Hood took his shot with 2.0 seconds to play and forced a second overtime.
The second overtime was more of the same. With the final minute ticking off Boomer Brazzle hit a three-pointer to give the Waves a 93-92 point lead. But there was Green once again hitting a three to give the Anteaters back the lead. Pepperdine was defending everybody in that possession and I really thought they were going to force a bad shot, but somehow Green lost his defender for a moment and he hit his shot from the corner. With only about six seconds left, the Waves knew that there was only time for one more shot and as Devin Montgomery drove towards the basket it looked like he bowled over half the UCI team. The refs called a foul with only a couple of seconds left and that was it. Game over.
Well, except for one thing. After UCI made its second free throw Terrence Johnson received the inbounds pass in front of the half-court line. He heaved up a shot and it was like watching a movie. It all kind of moved in slow motion, the crowd got real quiet and everyone could see the ball was on line. As it started to arc down towards the cylinder I really felt like the Waves were going to go to overtime number three! But as it reached the front of the rim it bounced off and that really was it. If only it had been six inches longer.
If, if, if.