GAME NOTES: Two Big West Conference foes occupying the cellar in the standings hope for a change of fortune tonight, as the Cal State Northridge Matadors visit the Bren Events Center to take on the UC Irvine Anteaters.
Northridge is in the midst of a brutal season, going just 7-19 overall and the team is only a half game up on last-place UC Davis in the Big West standings with a league ledger of only 3-11. Not surprisingly, the Matadors have struggled on the road, losing 11 of 14 away games, and they have dropped six of their last seven games overall, including a 63-61 loss to UC Riverside on Wednesday.
UC Irvine has only fared marginally better than Northridge, winning 10 games overall and it has knocked off five conference opponents in 13 tries. The Anteaters defeated Eastern Washington, 78-73, last Saturday as part of the BracketBusters event, but they had dropped their previous four games. They have found some success in front of the home crowd however, going 7-6 at the Bren Events Center this year.
UC Irvine holds a slim lead in the all-time series, 25-22, and it has won four of the past six games versus Northridge.
On Wednesday, Cal State Northridge battled back from five points down to tie UC Riverside at 61-61 with 20 seconds left, but the Highlanders controlled the final possession and drew a foul in the waning seconds, where they hit a pair of free throws to take down the Matadors. Northridge managed to hang tough despite shooting only 34.3 percent from the floor and failing to have a player record double digits in points. The Matadors are led by one of the conference's best freshmen, Stephan Hicks, who ranks sixth in scoring at 15.1 ppg and third in rebounding with 7.2 rpg. Josh Greene puts up 12.2 ppg and ranks in the top-10 in the conference in three-pointers made (54). Though Northridge sits fifth in the Big West in scoring (67.2 ppg), most of its woes have come because of its league-worst defense, which allows an average of 73.8 ppg.
UC Irvine had one of its best overall games of the year in the non-conference tilt with Eastern Washington last time out, as it shot an astonishing 61.7 percent from the field while holding the Eagles to 34.4 percent. The Anteaters had five players reach double figures, led by Chris McNealy's 15 points. Daman Starring is typically the team's most effective player, as he averages 12 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 3.0 apg, but Michael Wilder isn't far behind, putting up 11.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg and draining 2.5 three-pointers per outing. Neither player is stellar from the field though, as both Starring and Wilder shoot less than 42 percent. Irvine's game plan typically revolves around the three-point shot as it has attempted the most treys in the conference (585), with the third-most makes (209).
Even though UC Irvine hasn't played in a week, it should be able to carry over enough momentum from its solid performance against Eastern Washington to be able to take down the struggling Matadors.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UC Irvine 77, Cal State Northridge 68
02/25 10:41:21 ET
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