After dropping its lone home game in December to Pepperdine, 75-69, on Friday, the UC Irvine men's basketball team will take a full week off before hitting the road for four games in the subsequent two weeks.
And with the number of ways Coach Russell Turner identified that his team (5-5, 3-3 at home) is struggling, perhaps it's best that the Anteaters and their fans spend some time apart.
"We're not going to make the NCAA Tournament with what we're doing now, but what we do now is really important," Turner said after his team let a 10-point halftime lead slip away against the Waves (6-4). "And to squander the opportunity to build some momentum in front of these great home crowds we've had is really disappointing."
Disappointment is the overriding theme for UCI, which was picked in the preseason to win the Big West Conference and has a roster of talent unmatched since the last time it was winning Big West crowns a dozen years ago.
Turner took issue with his team's offense, its defense and, perhaps most of all, its collective mind-set against Pepperdine, which opened the second half on a 9-2 run and simply kept pummeling the hosts as a shore break foams over the beachfront sand.
"We come into every game with a plan against zone and man-to-man," Turner said. "Maybe it's too much. What I told the team at the end of the game was, as a staff we have to do a better job. We've had way too many periods with this team, [in which] we don't look ready. We don't look like we are clearly working well together.
"That's on us to solve. There can be a lot of reasons for that, but when the product on the floor doesn't look united and doesn't look intense, then we've got to figure that out. We've got to make sure we are those things before we are anything else. We weren't that tonight and I give credit to Pepperdine. [The Waves] played well and made us pay for the fact that we weren't very good in the second half."
UCI sizzled in the opening 20 minutes, hitting eight of its first 10 field-goal attempts and finishing on a 7-0 run to take a 40-30 intermission edge.
UCI shot 57.7% from the field in the opening half and made five of eight three-point tries (62.5%), including four from freshman guard Luke Nelson.
Will Davis and Alex Young had seven points apiece at halftime, as UCI had 10 assists on its 15 field goals and was outrebounding the Waves, 19-14.
But Pepperdine heated up after the break, connecting on half of its 28 field-goal tries in the second half, including five of 11 from three-point range. It produced a 24-15 rebounding advantage after intermission and finished with five fewer turnovers (12) than the Anteaters.
A three-pointer by sophomore Stacy Davis pulled Pepperdine even, 50-50, with 11:40 left in the game and when two Jett Raines free throws gave the visitors a 52-50 lead, they never trailed again.
"We're getting great support from our students and we're not doing our part," said Turner, whose team went 13-1 at home last season, when it coined the phrase "Defend the Bren. We haven't got a clear identity.
"Our team looked like we were pressing and we don't look relaxed out there. We looked tense the whole second half. I really have to evaluate what is the best way for us to improve those things. I think these guys know that we can be good, and I think right now they also know that we aren't very good. We're 5-5 with three home losses and that's not very good."
Senior Chris McNealy led UCI with 16 points, while Nelson and Young (eight assists) had 12 apiece. Davis had nine points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots, while 7-foot-6 freshman center Mamadou Ndiaye had 10 points, three rebounds and one block.
Pepperdine 75, UC Irvine 69
Pep – Davis 18, Lane 4, Kramer 3, Major 18, Brooks 16, Raines 7, Murray Jr. 5, Jesperson 2, Mills 2.
3-pt. goals – Brooks 3, Major 2, Davis 2.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Davis 9, Ndiaye 10, McNealy 16, Nelson 12, Young 12, Souza 6, Dunning 2, Dimakopoulos 2.
Fouled out – Nelson 4, Souza 2, Young 1, McNealy 1.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – UCI, 40-30.