MALIBU — UC Irvine men's basketball Coach Russell Turner spoke of regression after his Anteaters were defeated, 72-62, by host Pepperdine in a nonconference game Saturday night.
The remedy for a three-game losing streak that has dropped UCI to 3-4, according to Turner, might be aggression.
"I'm just surprised we played as poorly as we did," said Turner, whose team shot a season-low 34.3% from the field and trailed throughout. "I'm most displeased over what I see as a regression, in a little more than a week, in our team's enthusiasm.
"This game was not as much about our offense as our defense. We're like 340th in the country in forcing turnovers and I'm not sure why that is. We have guys who have length and athleticism, but we have not been good enough at attacking people. We don't attack."
Pepperdine (3-2, after its third straight win) had 17 turnovers, five more than UCI. But the Waves posted a 42-34 rebounding advantage and made 26 of 36 foul shots, while the 'Eaters were a mere seven of 12 from the free-throw line.
UCI senior guard Daman Starring tied career-highs with 25 points and six three-pointers, despite coming off the bench for the first time this season. He netted five three-pointers after halftime and finished six of nine from beyond the arc and nine of 15 overall from the field.
UCI junior guard Chris McNealy was seven for 14 from the field on his way to 15 points. But besides Starring and McNealy, the rest of the Anteaters were a combined seven for 38 from the field (18.4%). And the four UCI big men who took shots made just three of 19 (a woeful 15.8%).
"[The Waves] packed it in the paint and made it crowded in there," Turner said. "And we weren't able to convert much around any traffic. Every time we took the ball to the hole, we just didn't look strong enough to finish. I was surprised by that."
Trailing, 33-23, at halftime, UCI missed 15 of its first 17 second-half field-goal attempts and fell behind, 44-29, with 10:39 left.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Mike Wilder and Starring seemed to awaken the visitors, who eventually narrowed the deficit to 64-59 with 62 seconds left.
But Pepperdine, which was led by a career-high 28 points from senior guard Lorne Jackson, made 18 of 24 free throws in the final 5:14 to hold on and take a 11-10 lead in the series. Jackson was nine for 15 from the field and eight for nine from the foul line.
"We're not getting anything easy right now, because we can't get fast breaks and we can't get stops, rebounds and deflections," Turner said. "So on the defensive side of the ball, we've got to get better."
Beyond schemes and skills, Turner questioned his team's willingness to compete.
"I don't like our whole level of enthusiasm and energy," Turner said. "I expect us to be an aggressive team and we were not that. We were the more passive team for the whole first 36 minutes. I'm not sure how that happens, but I think it starts with the failure to appreciate the opportunity to play this game. We're going to get that fixed."
Senior Adam Folker led UCI with nine rebounds, while freshman guard Alex Young had a team-high five assists without a turnover in 30 minutes. He has 31 assists and just three turnovers this season.
UCI plays its fifth straight road game Wednesday at UNLV.