GAME NOTES: With first place in the Big West Conference on the line, the UC Irvine Anteaters will play host to the Long Beach State 49ers at the Bren Events Center on Thursday night.
Both LBSU and UCI are sitting at 5-2 in Big West action, tied for first place with UC Santa Barbara, which also plays Thursday.
Despite its lackluster 9-12 overall record, LBSU has surged up the league standings in recent weeks with a season-long four-game winning streak. The 49ers most recently defeated Cal State Fullerton at home on Saturday, 75-56, but they are only 3-6 away from home.
UCI has been the more consistent team this season, sporting a stellar 14-9 record. The Anteaters started their Big West schedule with four straight wins before losing back-to-back games, but they returned to the win column on Saturday with a strong road victory at Cal Poly, 64-50.
In regards to the all-time series, LBSU leads by a 55-36 margin, although UCI has won three straight, including back on Jan. 9 in Long Beach, 46-44.
The 49ers made easy work of Fullerton over the weekend, shooting 55.1 percent from the field while allowing their opponent to make just 31.3 percent of its shots en route to convincing 19-point victory. Mike Caffey was the catalyst in the win, as he not only scored 23 points on 8-of-16 from the field and 6-of-6 at the foul line but he also filled the stat sheet elsewhere with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. Tyler Lamb was also stellar with 18 points, while Dan Jennings hauled in nine rebounds.
On the season, LBSU sports less-than-stellar offensive numbers (.417 FG percentage, 68.3 ppg), but its scoring offense has shot up to 81.0 ppg over its last three games. Caffey is one of the conference's most well-rounded players, putting up 17.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.3 apg and 1.6 spg, but he shoots only 64.2 percent from the foul line. Lamb makes good on just 38 percent of his tries from the field but generates enough volume to score 15.5 ppg, while Jennings (9.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg) and A.J. Spencer (9.0 ppg) also contribute on a regular basis.
The Anteaters built up an 11-point lead over Cal Poly at halftime of their most recent bout and cruised from there to the 14-point triumph, shooting 48.1 percent from the field while holding the Mustangs to a meager 30.4 percent. Luke Nelson paced the effort with 15 points, Alex Young registered 14 points and five assists and Mike Best poured in 10 points.
UCI has played well on both ends of the floor this season, shooting just shy of 48 percent from the field for 74.1 ppg, while allowing 67.6 ppg on just 38.9 percent shooting. It adds to its well-rounded squad with a strong rebounding margin (+4.3) but it also gives a lot of possessions away with a -2.6 turnover margin. Nelson scores a team-best 12.1 ppg and has drained 48 3- pointers at a 36.6 percent clip. Chris McNealy (11.8 ppg) and Will Davis II (11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.0 bpg) round out the double-digit scorers, but Davis II has missed the past two games with an injury. Alex Young (9.4 ppg) hands out nearly five assists per tilt.
After a slow start, LBSU has turned things around and appears it'll be in the thick of the Big West race until the very end, but it has already fallen to UCI in Long Beach this season, and a trip to Irvine is likely to yield a similar result.
Game Date and Time