GAME NOTES: The Anteaters of UC Irvine ride a three-game win streak into their Saturday night meeting against Big West Conference foe, UC Riverside, at SRC Arena.
UCI finally got the conference schedule off the ground two nights ago against Long Beach State and took down the 49ers on their own court, 46-44. The victory was the fourth in the last five outings for the program, as it moved to three games over .500 on the campaign and snapped a 26-game conference home win streak for LBSU in the process.
Unfortunately for the Highlanders, they are moving in the opposite direction right now with back-to-back defeats and setbacks in four of the last five outings overall. What's worse is the only win during the stretch was against Waldorf College on Jan. 2. On Thursday night, the team was taken down by Cal State Fullerton on the road, 78-73.
The Anteaters, who lead the all-time series by a count of 30-23, will host UCR in the middle of next month to complete the season series.
The Anteaters failed to sink double-digit baskets in both periods versus Long Beach State a few nights back, yet the visitors came away with the two-point win on the road nonetheless. Somehow the visitors made 34.0 percent shooting from the field, 27.8 percent accuracy beyond the arc and 15 turnovers stand up as Chris McNealy accounted for 12 points, Alex Young 11 and Mamadou Ndiaye 11 rebounds to go along with four blocked shots.
Although he was one of the many who failed to reach double figures versus the 49ers, Will Davis II is still the leading scorer overall for the Anteaters with his 12.1 ppg, thanks to his 60.7 percent shooting from the floor and not so much his mere 63.2 percent effort at the free-throw line. McNealy contributes another 11.6 ppg and Luke Nelson 11.4 ppg, but the former is also rather weak at the charity stripe (.649), which is why the team as a whole comes in at only 62.8 percent over 17 games.
The Highlanders fell behind by as many as 15 points in the final three minutes of the first half against the Titans, yet they refused to go away and remained competitive right up until the end of the five-point decision on the road. Taylor Johns produced a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Steven Thornton and Sam Finley with 14 and 13 points, respectively, but the latter converted just 3-of-13 from the floor and turned the ball over five times.
Far from a high-powered offense, UC Riverside's output on Thursday was the exception and not the rule, seeing as how the program is producing an average of only 67.5 ppg while shooting 30.1 percent behind the 3-point line. Johns (12.9 ppg) paces the group in scoring and is also first on the glass with 8.5 rpg, but his 56.5 percent effort at the charity stripe is lacking. Back in action after missing the first two games of January, Chris Patton is second in scoring (12.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg) to help shoulder the load.
Considering the fact that UCI has played well on the road this season, being away from home and having to make such a quick turnaround shouldn't hurt them tonight.
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