If the preseason polls result in truth and UC Irvine does end up winning the Big West regular season championship, the Anteaters took a giant step in that direction on Thursday night.
UC Irvine’s 46-44 win over Long Beach State at the Pyramid spoke volumes. Long Beach State had been unbeaten in their previous 26 home games in conference play. It was a streak that dates back to 2010 and lasted over more than three seasons until facing the Anteaters in the Black and Blue Rivalry on Thursday night.
"That’s a heck of an accomplishment," UCI head coach Russ Turner told Prime Ticket following his team’s win on Thursday. "I’m happy for our players because we really haven’t proven anything at all, and to come in here is a gutty win. We showed the toughness to win on the road a few times this year and we’re going to have to do it a bunch more if we want to compete for a league title."
Perhaps, it’s a message that the landscape in the Big West is shifting. Long Beach State, winner of the previous three Big West regular season championships, started the game with five members of the second unit.
In that second unit was freshman point guard Anson Moye – who just returned to practice this week after suffering a broken foot – starting in his first career game, and Travis Hammonds who hasn’t even been with the team for a month after arriving in Long Beach from South Carolina on Dec. 18.
Head coach Dan Monson, not pleased with the effort of his first unit in practice this week, made a statement by sitting them to start the game.
It has been a challenging season for Long Beach State, to say the least. Even though they’ve taken their losses against some of the premier programs in the country, Monson has not seen that type of growth he’d like with Big West play now underway, especially in the form of leadership.
At halftime, after sitting his starters at the beginning of the game, Monson was hoping his team would "loosen up" at the offensive end. It never happened in a 31 percent shooting night.
Meanwhile, even when it appears UCI’s 7’6" center Mamadou Ndiaye is having a quiet night, he’s having a huge impact. Defensively, Ndiaye and his 8’1" wingspan blocked four Long Beach State shots and deterred them from many others.
Offensively he wasn’t much of a factor, finishing the night with just four points. His touches were extremely limited as the Anteaters had a tough time finding him for post entries as Long Beach State switched back and forth from man to zone defensively.
We showed the toughness to win on the road a few times this year, and we’re going to have to do it a bunch more if we want to compete for a league title.
-- UCI head coach Russ Turner
That’s been an issue for the team all season and an adjustment they continually look to fix — having such a mammoth specimen on the offensive end.