UC Irvine (7-8) at Cal Poly (6-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 5, 10 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Mott Gym (3,032) -- San Luis Obispo, California. Television: None. Home Record: UCI 4-1, Cal Poly 4-1. Away Record: UCI 2-6, Cal Poly 2-5. Neutral Record: UCI 1-1, Cal Poly 0-0. Conference Record: UCI 1-1, Cal Poly 2-0. Series Record: UC Irvine leads, 21-19.
GAME NOTES: The Cal Poly Mustangs will wrap up a brief two-game homestand on Saturday night when they take on the UC Irvine Anteaters in a Big West Conference showdown at Mott Gym.
After winning three of its previous four games, UCI traveled to UC Santa Barbara on Thursday night and suffered its first conference loss of the season, 74-71. The setback prevented the Anteaters from earning their first three-game winning streak of the year.
Cal Poly's back-and-forth season is on the upswing after winning last Saturday at UC Riverside (58-48), and on Thursday against Long Beach State (79-73). It was the first time the Mustangs have won back-to-back games all season long, and while they've reached the .500 mark for the fifth time, a victory in this matchup will give them a winning record for the first time all year.
These two programs have played each other tight over the years, with UCI clinging to a 21-19 series advantage, although Cal Poly has won the last three matchups.
Despite leading by double-digits for much of the first half against UCSB, UCI let Thursday's game get away after intermission as it was saddled with the three-point loss. The Anteaters simply couldn't keep up, as they shot a respectable 44.8 percent from the field with 10 3-pointers, but the Gauchos were even better at 49.1 percent and 13 treys. Daman Starring led the way with 21 points on 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, while Alex Young (18 points) and Adam Folker (10 points, six rebounds) were also effective in defeat. They typically rely on a balanced effort, with Starring (14.0 ppg) serving as the leading scorer, and Folker, Young, Chris McNealy and Michael Wilder all averaging between 8.3 and 8.7 ppg. UCI's offensive output hasn't been anything to brag about (.427 FG percentage, 69.9 ppg), but it plays outstanding defense, boasting the conference's best yields both in terms of scoring (63.2 ppg) and field goal percentage (.367). The team is also strong on the glass, laying claim to a plus-6.4 rebounding margin.
Cal Poly was also apart of a tight battle on Thursday night, as it shot just a tad lower than Long Beach State (.433 to .436), but the difference was made from beyond the arc, where the Mustangs drained 10-of-21 attempts. Making five of those long-range buckets was Dylan Royer, who finished with 17 points. Reese Morgan came off the bench to net a career-high 16 points, while Kyle Odister and Brian Bennett tallied 12 and 11 points, respectively. On the season, Cal Poly gets outshot (.453 to .421), but is able to claim a narrow plus-0.8 scoring margin by committing a league-low 9.5 turnovers per game. Chris Eversley is the team's catalyst, as he leads the way with 15.0 ppg and 7.5 rpg, while adding 2.6 apg and 1.0 spg for good measure. Royer (10.2 ppg) and Bennett (9.9 ppg) are solid complementary options, while point guard Jamal Johnson actually has more assists (58) than points (51).
In a contest between two evenly-matched teams, the edge goes to Cal Poly, as it has been impressive at home, while UCI has largely struggled on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cal Poly 65, UC Irvine 62
01/05 10:32:35 ET