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No identity crisis for UCI

Men's Basketball

Anteaters are true to who they are in commanding quarterfinal win to reach semis vs. Cal Poly.

March 14, 2014|By Barry Faulkner
  • UC Irvine's Will Davis and teammates are congratulated by fans after beating UC Riverside 63-43 to open the Big West Tournament on Thursday.
UC Irvine's Will Davis and teammates are congratulated… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

ANAHEIM — Consistency is among the requirements for postseason success and the UC Irvine Anteaters proved, at least through one game of the Big West Conference men's basketball tournament, that they are who we thought they were.

Top-seeded UCI handled No. 8-seeded UC Riverside, 63-43, in the quarterfinals Thursday at Honda Center, virtually mirroring two previous wins over the Highlanders this season.

The win propels UCI (23-10) and ranked No. 14 in the CollegeInsider.com mid-major poll, into a semifinal clash Friday at 6:30 p.m. against No. 7-seeded Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly knocked off No. 2-seeded UC Santa Barbara, 69-38, in another quarterfinal.

Thursday's triumph, which allowed UCI to tie the 1981-82 team for the second-most victories in one season in program history, was all about defense and statistical balance, which have been standard operating procedure this season for Coach Russell Turner's squad.

UCI held Riverside to 29.4% shooting from the field (15 for 51) to improve to 21-0 when opponents fail to shoot better than 40%. The 'Eaters are 16-0 when holding the opponent to fewer than 60 points and since Feb. 1 lead the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.332).

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UCI held Riverside (10-21) to a combined 29.1% field-goal shooting percentage in its two regular-season wins: 72-52 in Riverside and 70-52 at the Bren Events Center.

"Tonight's game was like a lot of our games this year, in that we did what we do," said Turner, the conference Coach of the Year who guided the team to the program's third Big West title. "We worked and guarded just about every possession of the game. That's frustrating playing against a team [like us] that is able to protect the paint the way we were able to do tonight."

As usual, UCI's foremost leather detector is 7-foot-6 freshman center Mamadou Ndiaye, who blocked four shots to surpass Michael Olowokandi's Big West record for single-season blocks. Ndiaye, the Big West Defensive Player of the Year who has 98 blocks and set the record blocking a dunk attempt by Taylor Johns, had half of the Anteaters' total.

Ndiaye's presence forced Riverside's leading scorer, 6-10 senior Chris Patton, as well as other Highlanders, to rush and alter their shots. Patton was two for nine from the field and had five points, less than half his average (13.3). UCR's three front-court starters were a combined six for 25 (a mere 24%).

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