IRVINE — The UC Irvine big men may not win any powerlifting competitions, but they showed Wednesday night that they might hold their own in a tough man tournament or two.
Senior Adam Folker and sophomore Will Davis, despite giving away a combined 24 pounds to the more stout Cal Poly San Luis Obispo starting front-line tandem, flexed what muscles they do have to help the host Anteaters plod their way to a 52-45 Big West Conference triumph.
Folker, who was held scoreless in the opening half of UCI's 72-65 loss at Cal Poly on Jan. 5, scored 10 of his team's first 14 points Wednesday on his way to a team-best 16 points on eight-of-11 shooting from the field. Folker added a game-high nine rebounds and even blocked a shot to help the Anteaters (11-11, 5-4 in conference) improve to 7-1 at home, 4-0 against Big West visitors.
Davis added nine points and four rebounds, but two of his field goals were dunks and he netted his only foul shot to help UCI sink 14 of 17 free throws.
"I mean, I have tough guys, and guys with character," said UCI Coach Russell Turner, who all but questioned his players' manhood after Cal Poly (9-10, 5-4) bullied them in the first meeting, taking the ball out of their hands on a handful of occasions at Mott Gym. "We did challenge our players, because I thought we came up short in that department at Cal Poly and I was surprised at that then. But that's why you play everybody [in the conference] twice. We got the chance to redeem ourselves."
UCI also needed a little redemption after trailing, 25-21, at the half on Wednesday. The Anteaters missed all seven of their three-point field-goal tries in the first half.
But the 'Eaters, whose statistical profile spikes on defense — the team leads the Big West in field-goal-percentage defense — answered by holding the Mustangs to 20 points after intermission.
It was fewest points in the second half for a UCI opponent since Fairleigh Dickinson produced only 19 on Nov. 5, 2009. Some 113 games later, the Anteaters limited Cal Poly to seven-of-20 shooting from the field in the final 20 minutes, including one of seven from threedom.
"We needed to get our defense back a little and we did that," Turner said. "I was pleased the way our team accepted that challenge and executed the game plan we had defensively, with the exception of one period in the first half.
"It was not pretty, I guess, but we know that's the type of game Cal Poly creates," Turner said. "They have character, toughness and identity and that makes it hard to play against them."
UCI forged a 41-37 lead with 7:15 to play, before the Mustangs used a 7-3 run to earn a 45-44 advantage with 2:35 left.
But the visitors did not score again, and UCI, which had shot 62.8% from the foul line coming in, sank all eight of its free throws down the stretch. UCI's 82.4% free-throw shooting Wednesday was its third-best showing of the season.
In the first meeting, the Mustangs made 21 of 25 free throws, while UCI hit nine of 14. Cal Poly was just 10 for 19 from the Bren Events Center foul line.
Senior guard Daman Starring added 12 points and made UCI's only two three-pointers, while senior Mike Wilder had four points, four rebounds and four assists.
Junior reserve Chris McNealy chipped in eight points and four rebounds and, like Starring, he was four for four from the foul line.
UCI, tied with Cal Poly and Hawaii for third place through Wednesday, plays host to UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 52, Cal Poly SLO 45
CPSLO – Eversley 15, Bennett 6, U'U 8, Royer 6, Morgan 0, O'Brien 5, Odister 5.