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Mini-showdown tonight

January 15, 2003

Steve Virgen

UC Irvine's Big West Conference home opener will be the Anteaters'

toughest game at the Bren Events Center, thus far. Tonight at 7:05,

the 'Eaters will host Utah State, the team that shared the Big West

regular-season title with UCI last year. And, if last year's matchups

between these two teams are any indication of what tonight will be

like, rest assured this game is sure to be a battle.

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The schools split one-point decisions on each other's court last

season, with UCI winning, 67-66 (on Jerry Green's game-winning shot)

in Logan , and the Aggies prevailing, 62-61, at the Bren Center. Utah

State leads the series against UCI, 25-24.

"We've been on the road awhile, so it's good to get back home,"

UCI Coach Pat Douglass said. "Unfortunately, you take on the big

honcho, the Aggies. But it will be nice to play in front of our big

crowd. It should be a lot of fun."

The Aggies (12-3, 3-1) are the class of the Big West. They are

ranked fourth in the most recent CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25

poll, while UCI has fallen out of the rankings.

Utah State features 6-foot-7 senior forward Desmond Penigar, who

leads the Aggies with a 14.8 points-per-game average. The Aggies'

offense is guided by junior point guard Mark Brown, who led

Saddleback College to the California Community College championship

last year and was the MVP.

Over the last four games, Brown has compiled 27 assists and only

five turnovers. He leads the Big West with a 2.57 assist-to-turnover

ratio and also ranks second with 4.8 assists per game. The Aggies

also have sophomore Spencer Nelson, who earned Big West Player of the

Week honors after averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, though he

played only 18.5 minutes per game, in wins over Cal Poly and UC Santa

Barbara.

While Utah State has several options on offense, Douglass wants

his team to be prepared for the Aggies' defense.

"They're a very good defensive team," Douglass said of the Aggies'

who are the top rebounding team in the Big West and third in scoring

defense, allowing an average of 59 points per game. "Brown has done

an excellent job of leading the team and setting up other teammates.

(Coach) Stew (Morill) has a winning formula. They're always a tough

challenge for anyone in our conference."

UCI will combat the Aggies' attack with its ability to get to the

free-throw line and its depth. UCI is No. 1 in the Big West in

free-throw percentage (.762) and second in scoring offense, posting

74.2 points per game. Freshman Jeff Gloger leads the Big West in

steals for all games (3.58) and in league games (4). He is ranked

third nationally, while 7-foot junior center Adam Parada is ranked

second in the NCAA in field-goal percentage (.659).

Parada's play has picked up as of late, as he has scored 75 points

in 115 minutes over the past five games. He leads the Big West in

field-goal percentage. He scored 11 points, as he struggled with foul

trouble, in UCI's 81-77 win at UC Riverside Saturday.

Senior forward Jordan Harris scored a season-high 20 points

Saturday, while senior guard Mike Hood hit the go-ahead jumper with

29 seconds left and hit two free throws with 11 seconds left to help

secure the win.

"He started off slowly against UCR," Douglass said of Hood.

"For him to come back and make the key shots, showed some mental

toughness. I see him regaining form. It's very uplifting for us to

see him continue to improve."

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