Half way through the conference slate, and our Anteaters have hit a bump in the road. Instead of running away with the regular season title, Luke’s hamstring reared its ugly soreness and a Nelson-less UCI couldn’t pull out wins against lowly Cal Poly and conference challenger UC Davis.

Nelson made the start tonight against Long Beach, but he left the game after three minutes. Luke’s ability to stay on the court will likely be in the back of our collective minds for the rest of the season. Without him, the likelihood of UCI being able to win three straight games in Anaheim come March will likely be no higher than any other team in the league.

About 10 minutes into the game, Long Beach has built an eight minute game as UCI’s offense looked sluggish at best — let’s hope UCI got the scoring drought out of their system early. Stay tuned as UCI tries to notch this crucial win on national TV.

8:35 pm: Color commentator Richie Schueler just made an interesting observation about UCI’s recent struggles: our many freshman are hitting the proverbial “freshman wall” and opponents are starting to scout them and know how to defend against them. The only problem with this explanation is that if anything, Jaron and Ioannis are the ones who have been off the most in comparison to their usual production during this down period. The freshman have been up and down, as if they’ve been all season.

8:45 pm: Long Beach’s big men have been surprisingly effective so far. Even bench player Mason Riggins has had two hook shots fall. We’ve gotta hope that this doesn’t stay the case.

8:51 pm: Broadcast acknowledges Luke Nelson coming up on Mike Hunter for 11th place on the UC Irvine all-time scoring leader board. Would be interesting to see how much higher Nelson would be on the list if he had been healthy for his entire senior season.

8:53 pm: Casper Ware –>  Mike Caffey –> Justin Bibbins –> Loren Jackson. Looks like Dan Monson (or Dan “Munson”, as ESPNU declared earlier in the game) has cornered the market on tiny combo guards. Granted, those guys have given UCI fits over the years, but I’d still rather take Coach Turner and his ability to attract talented big men to Irvine.

8:57 pm: Huge three-pointers from Jaron and Brandon Smith. Really pulled the Anteaters back into the game. I’ll take being down by four at half after starting off in such a funk.

9:11 pm: Some more halftime thoughts… Galloway is leading the ‘Eaters with 7 points. Don’t think that’s been the case at the end of any half this season. Also, Ioannis not only has zero points, he has zero shots attempted! Would love to see Dimakopolous come out firing to open the second half.

9:15 pm: Don’t look now but UCI’s two defensive specialists, Brandon Smith and Jon Galloway, are currently the two leading scorers for the good guys! And Smith adds the sweet block for good measure!

9:25 pm: Bibbins just left the game after landing hard on his tailbone. Now’s the time for UCI to make a run.

9:30 pm: Pretty surprised at Greene’s inability to put the ball in the hoop after getting the rebound right under the basket. Seems like he’s rushing the shot, wildly throwing it up there, as if he thinks he’s going to get blocked. Don’t recall that earlier this season from the big freshman.

9:34 pm: Gotta love Ioannis drawing that offensive foul. Can’t remember seeing that all season. Talk about giving them a taste of their own medicine!

9:35 pm: Man is it nice having Luke back on the court.

9:41 pm: Time to buckle down and pull this win out of the hat. Turner’s taking a page from the Mamadou-era Anteater playbook with the 2-3 zone and so far the 49ers have no answer.

9:44 pm: Tommy! Luke! Yessir! Meanwhile, Long Beach guards pulling out all the tricks to draw fouls.

9:50 pm: It’s clear this one is going to come down to who can make the big shot at the end of the game. UCI needs to keep forcing the turnovers like the one that led to the Hazzard – Galloway slam.

10:03 pm: Some ill-advised offensive possessions late and now it’s going to take a minor miracle. 66-60 with 1:03 to go, Long Beach ball.

10:08 pm: UCI needs a bucket at all costs and Spencer Rivers is the primary ball handler? Strange. Even if you’re scared that Luke is going to take a deep three without working the offense, why give it to a guy with questionable ball handling? To me, Rivers is much better suited to be the guy receiving the ball for a set-piece three.

Well, this one was always going to be a tough one on the schedule, but it’s disconcerting that Long Beach was still able to pull this off without Gabe Levin and Noah Blackwell.

The Anteaters need to get back on track, and fast. At home against UCSB up next, followed by a road battle against a suddenly resurgent Hawaii squad.