GAME NOTES: Two of the Big West Conference's best meet at the Spanos Center on Thursday night, as the UC Irvine Anteaters hit the road to take on the Pacific Tigers.
UCI has gotten hot at the perfect time with the conference tournament just around the corner, as it has ripped off a season-high five straight victories, including a 72-69 triumph over first-place Long Beach State last Saturday. The Anteaters are 17-13 overall, and at 10-6 in the Big West, they are just a game behind Pacific for second place.
Pacific's season has been solid all around with a 17-12 overall record and an 11-5 league ledger, but it is two games back of LBSU for first place with just two games to play. If the 49ers loses to UC Davis on Thursday night however, the Tigers will have their chance at home against them on Saturday afternoon. Pacific recently embarked on a four-game road swing, and after losing the first two, they rebounded with back-to-back wins over Cal State Fullerton (64-55) and UC Riverside (70-68).
Pacific leads the all-time series with UC Irvine, 40-37, although the Anteaters have won two of the last three encounters, including a 68-59 triumph at home on Feb. 20.
The Anteaters built a lead as large at 13 points early in the second half in their bout with LBSU, and although the 49ers made a run late to make a game of it, UCI was able to hold on for the three-point victory by shooting 11-of-12 from the foul line in the final 20 minutes. Pacing four teammates in double figures was Adam Folker, who scored 16 points on 7-of-12 from the field. Will Davis II recorded 12 points and tied his own school record with eight blocks, Michael Wilder tallied a double-double with 10 points, and Daman Starring also chipped in 10 points. On the season, UCI's offense hasn't been great, ranking sixth in the league with 69.1 ppg, but it has benefitted from the second-best scoring defense, yielding just 64.4 ppg. Starring leads the way with 13.6 ppg thanks to his 44.3 percent efficiency from 3-point range. While no one else nets in double figures, five others pour in at least 8.0 ppg, with Folker, Wilder and Davis all grabbing at least 5.2 rpg.
The Tigers experienced a scare late in their clash with UC Riverside, as they saw a double-digit advantage shrink to just one down the stretch, but they were able to hang on for the tough road win. They shot greater than 48 percent from the field, with Lorenzo McCloud acting as the primary playmaker with 15 points and six assists. Sama Taku added 12 points, Travis Fulton tallied 11 points and seven rebounds, and Colin Beatty contributed 10 points to the winning effort. Pacific boasts a similar style as UCI, as it is far from impressive at the offensive end (67.7 ppg), but does enough on defense (64.5 ppg) to make up for it. The squad is also active in the takeaway battle with a +1.7 turnover margin. Pacific's gameplan runs through McCloud most of the time, as he scores 11.4 ppg on 44.5 percent field goal shooting, while also getting others involved with 4.0 apg. Fulton (9.1 ppg), Taku (8.6 ppg) and Ross Rivera (8.1 ppg) bring modest, albeit consistent, production to the table.
UCI got the better of Pacific in the first matchup this season, but that was in Irvine where it has won 12 of 13 this season. In a matchup between two very similar teams, the Tigers get the advantage considering their great home mark (11-2) coupled with the Anteaters' lackluster road record (4-11).
Game Date and Time