UC Irvine (18-9) at Cal State Northridge (13-15)

The Sports NetworkFebruary 22, 2014 

GAME NOTES: The UC Irvine Anteaters hope to hold onto first place in the Big West Conference when they visit Cal State Northridge on Saturday night.

The Anteaters, at 9-2 in the conference, are a game ahead of UC Santa Barbara, a team UC Irvine lost to earlier this year, but will host on Feb. 27. UC Irvine has won five in a row, one shy of a season high. Russell Turner's team is coming off a 60-56 overtime win at Hawaii Thursday night. Luke Nelson scored 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Mamadou Ndiaye, Will Davis II and Chris McNealy each chipped in 11 points. Ndiaye grabbed a team-high nine rebounds in the win, and Davis pulled down six boards of his own.

UC Irvine, which has won 14 of its last 17 Big West contests going back to last season, has three players averaging double figures in scoring in Nelson (12.1), McNealy (11.6) and Davis (10.3), who also leads the team in rebounding (6.4). The Anteaters have displayed fabulous defense this season and currently pace the Big West by allowing teams to shoot 38.7 percent from the field, including 33.1 percent from 3-point range.

The current 18-9 mark is the best for the Anteaters after 27 games for the first time in 11 years when the 2002-03 team was 19-8. The 9-2 conference showing is also tops for the program since the 2005-06 squad had the same mark after 11 conference games.

Cal State Northridge coach Reggie Theus saw his team suffer a 96-88 loss at Idaho on Tuesday, this after the Matadors upended then first-place UC Santa Barbara in overtime last Saturday. Stephen Maxwell and Stephan Hicks each scored 21 in the loss to Idaho.

Defense has been the big issue for the Matadors. They allowed the Vandals to shoot 58.9 percent from the field on Tuesday. CS Northridge is giving up 74.5 points, which is last in the Big West. On the other side though, the Matadors have been thriving at the foul line by making 77.4 percent, which is fourth in the nation. Josh Greene (15.3 ppg) is a 91.1 percent foul shooter, which is sixth in the country. Maxwell (17.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Hicks (16.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) are part a team that leads the Big West in steals (7.1 spg)

One more road win for UC Irvine would give the team 10 for this season, which would be the most for the program since the 2000-01 season (10-2). The Anteaters have won four of the last five meetings with the Matadors, including a 72-66 hard-fought contest on Jan. 23. Nelson had 14 points in that contest, in which UC Irvine led by as many as 18 points in the first half before holding on for the victory. Expect this game to be even tighter, but for the Matadors to come out on top they will have to shoot better. The Anteaters are 17-0 overall and 9-0 in Big West contests when holding opponents to under 40- percent shooting from the field. CS Northridge made only 34.9 percent from the floor in that first meeting.

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