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UCI opens with a bang

Men's Basketball

Flowers nets career-high 21 points to help UCI begin Big West play with first road win of season at Northridge.

December 31, 2011|By Barry Faulkner

NORTHRIDGE — One game into the Big West Conference men's basketball season, the buzz about UC Irvine has nothing to do with the Anteaters' tight new haircuts.

UCI, picked to finish last in the nine-team conference in the preseason poll, did little to disprove such a prediction in a 3-9 preseason that included just one win over a Division I program.

But there was little about UCI's performance Thursday that would point toward limiting optimism in conference play.

"I don't think my team in any way has lost belief because of our record," UCI Coach Russell Turner said. "A lot of people who follow us maybe ask some questions they probably should ask when you look at our record. But we're going to continue to fight and grind and hopefully improve as a team."

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UCI (4-9, 1-0 in conference) had 13 assists on 13 field goals, including six three-pointers, and committed just five turnovers in the first half. The visitors led by as many as 22 and had a 43-24 advantage at the break.

CSUN (3-8, 0-1) turned up its intensity in the second half as the Matadors used an 11-0 run that coincided with a UCI scoreless streak of nearly eight minutes to trim the deficit to 48-38. Then, the hosts heated up from three-point range to close to within 55-52 with 6:26 remaining.

But the 'Eaters, who were 0-8 away from home this year coming in, answered with a 7-0 flurry to regain control. UCI then made eight straight foul shots in a one-minute span that ended with 35 seconds left to preserve the victory.

Junior Mike Wilder fed junior Aaron Folker for a layin to start the 7-0 burst, which was then extended by one of Flowers' four three-pointers. Flowers, in only his fourth start since taking over for injured freshman Aaron Wright, made four of five from three-point range to help his team shoot 42.1% from beyond the arc.

Sophomore Chris McNealy capped the 7-0 run with a driving reverse layup that typified the kind of aggressiveness Turner wanted from his team when adversity surfaced.

"When they ramped the pressure up in the second half, I don't feel like we were as aggressive," Turner said. " We talk as a team about staying in attack mode, even when we are ahead. I told guys at halftime that I'd rather us play like we're down 20, instead of like we were ahead at all."

Flowers, whose four three-pointers were also a career-high, had three assists and two turnovers in 31 minutes and topped four Anteaters who scored in double figures.

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