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Colleges: Balance a theme in Big West Conference men's basketball

January 02, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • Mike Wilder (23), a UC Irvine senior will venture to the Central Coast for twoBig West Conference games this week.
Mike Wilder (23), a UC Irvine senior will venture to the… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

At 7-7, the UC Irvine men's basketball team is breaking even. It took overtime, of course, to produce the Anteaters' seventh victory of the season on Saturday, and "even" may be the theme in the Big West Conference, which tipped off with five games Saturday.

Four games among Big West rivals were decided by 10 or fewer points on Saturday, with the lone exception being UCI's 68-57 overtime conquest of visiting UC Davis, which managed just one field goal in the final 10:33 of action, including a scoreless overtime session.

Even may be the operative word in the Big West this season, with none of the 10 teams having stepped forward as a definitive favorite.

Cal State Northridge came into conference play with a 9-3 record, but fell, 74-71, to Hawaii.

One national media outlet named UC Santa Barbara as its odds-on favorite to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. But the Gauchos lost to Cal State Fullerton, 86-79, Saturday and are now 4-8.

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Only two Big West teams take winning records into Thursday's conference schedule and both of those 7-5 squads — Cal State Fullerton and Hawaii — will square off at 9 p.m. in Honolulu.

UCI plays five of its next seven conference games on the road, beginning with its Central Coast swing against UCSB (Thursday at 7 p.m.) and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (Saturday at 7).

Coach Russell Turner's Anteaters were picked to finish third in the preseason poll and rank atop the conference in rebounding (43.6 per game), scoring defense (62.4), field-goal percentage defense (.360), three-point percentage defense (.275), assists (16.8) and blocked shots (5.0).

UCI senior Daman Starring, the 'Eaters' leading scorer at 13.5 per contest, ranks second in the Big West in three-point percentage (47.2% on 53 attempts). Sophomore Will Davis leads Big West players with 2.1 blocks per game, while freshman point guard Alex Young is second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5 with 50 assists and 20 turnovers).

The Big West is ranked 15th among 32 conferences, plus independents in the latest Ratings Percentage Index breakdown, which lists UCI at No. 145 among 347 schools.

The rest of the Big West is as follows on the RPI list: Northridge (59), UCSB (86), Long Beach State (116); Pacific (146), Cal Poly (196), UC Davis (219), Hawaii (247), Cal State Fullerton (270) and UC Riverside (345).

UCI has played four teams in the top 54, topped by UNLV (13) and including UCLA (43), Southern Mississippi (50) and LSU (54).

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