POSTGAME REACTION: JOE CALLERO
SAN LUIS OBISPO – Junior guard Reese Morgan (right) tied a season scoring high with a game-best 17 points, but UC Irvine sank four three-pointers inside a four-minute stretch midway through the second half as the Cal Poly men's basketball team saw a one-point deficit turned into a 67-57 defeat inside the Bren Center on Thursday evening.
Junior forward Joel Awich added 13 points – his sixth successive double-digit scoring game – for Cal Poly (10-9, 3-4), which trailed 44-43 with 10 minutes to play before Big West Conference co-leader UC Irvine (12-8, 5-1) hit four successive three-pointers en route to placing the game out of reach.
Awich added a game-best eight rebounds and senior guard Maliik Love also matched a season high with nine points, but Cal Poly – despite shooting 42.1 (24-for-57) percent from the floor – conceded a 46.6 (27-for-58) percent mark the UC Irvine. The 67 points scored by UC Irvine marked the first time in nine games that Cal Poly had allowed 60-plus points.
With the loss, Cal Poly fell to sixth place in the Big West standings. UC Irvine, meanwhile, retained a share of first place alongside both UC Davis (15-4, 5-1) and Long Beach State (11-11, 5-1).
Cal Poly wraps its two-game road trip at UC Davis on Saturday, Jan. 31. Tip time is 7 p.m. for the nationally-televised broadcast on ESPNU.
Helped by two three-pointers from senior guard Travis Souza, UC Irvine began the matchup 6-for-7 from the floor and with a 15-6 advantage after six minutes. The Anteaters then held Cal Poly to a single field goal during a five-span to increase their advantage to 20-8 10 minutes before the break.
Cal Poly, which shot 40.0 (12-for-30) percent from the floor in the first half, still found itself trailing 27-14 seven minutes prior to halftime before receiving a three-pointer and jumper from Awich and a layup by sophomore guard Ridge Shipley to draw to a 29-21 deficit.
The Mustangs were then handed layups from Awich and Morgan down the stretch, but UC Irvine maintained a 34-25 cushion heading into the break.
The nine-point deficit marked the first time that Cal Poly had trailed at halftime in nine games, a streak dating to a Dec. 20 loss versus No. 8 Gonzaga.
Cal Poly, however, chalked up the opening three baskets of the second half through layups by junior forward Brian Bennett, junior wing David Nwaba and Love. Love then added a free throw as Cal Poly immediately closed its deficit to 34-32.
The Mustangs cut their gap to a single point on four occasions but, trailing 44-43, Cal Poly conceded the four successive three-pointers as the Anteaters reaffirmed a double-digit lead at 56-43 with five-and-a-half minutes to play.
Morgan broke UC Irvine's 12-0 run with a pair of free throws, but the Anteaters received layups by senior center John Ryan and junior guard Alex Young on successive possessions to push their lead to 61-45 with four minutes remaining.
The Mustangs mounted one final offensive as a four-point play from Morgan helped spur a 10-2 run that sliced Cal Poly's deficit to 63-55 with 55 seconds to play. An eight-point gap, however, was as close as Cal Poly would come down the stretch.