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'Eaters' lift-off a hit

UCI's superior size translates to seven dunks and seven blocks. McNealy, Ndiaye and Ryan all sparkle.

November 02, 2013|By Barry Faulkner

With a team picked to win the Big West Conference and possibly earn the program's first NCAA Tournament berth, expectations are clearly high around the UC Irvine men's basketball program this season.

But as the opening moments of the Anteaters' 89-61 exhibition victory over Chapman proved to a crowd of 1,601 at the Bren Events Center on Saturday night, the level of play has also been raised.

UCI, for which 7-foot-6 freshman Mamadou Ndiaye started along with 6-8 Will Davis, scored its first three baskets on dunks and generally extended its existence above the rim on the defense end as well, blocking multiple shots to at least temporarily overwhelm the Division III Panthers.

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Ndiaye needed 28 seconds to rattle the rim, catching the first pass to him deep in the post, turning and flushing the ball, as well as any notion that things are not altogether different around a program that ended a 27-year drought without a postseason victory last March.

Davis, added a pair of dunks to propel the hosts toward a 22-7 advantage.

"I thought we were ready to play," said UCI Coach Russell Turner, who played the starters about half the game and distributed double-figure minutes to 12 of his 13 available players. "I thought we had good energy and I thought we were unselfish. And all those things are really important."

Important also, Davis said, was to justify a growing buzz around this team, which has uncommon length in the front court and a depth of talent in the backcourt that is generally atypical for a Big West  squad.

"The thing I worry about with this team is our urgency," said Turner, who was pleased with the level of energy provided by a crowd that included a large contingency of students. "The whole thing with expectations is new with our program, so being able to perform, despite people suggesting you are already there, is hard for young players, young people. So what I wanted to see more than anything was that energy and desperation to perform. You have to have that to really have anything else. And it's not easy to have that."

Ndiaye, perhaps displaying more promise than urgency, collected nine points, including three of UCI's seven dunks, seven rebounds and five blocked shots in a tidy 16 minutes. He netted four of six field-goal tries, including a swooping dunk that hinted at the unprecedented capacity of his unique physique.

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