UC Irvine (10-10) at Long Beach State (10-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 26, 7:05 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Walter Pyramid (5,000) -- Long Beach, California. Television: None. Home Record: UCI 6-1, LBSU 5-2. Away Record: UCI 3-8, LBSU 5-6. Neutral Record: UCI 1-1, LBSU 0-0. Conference Record: UCI 4-3, LBSU 6-1. Series Record: Long Beach State, 56-33.
GAME NOTES: The Long Beach State 49ers will try to extend their season-long winning streak to five games on Saturday, as they play host to Big West Conference rival UC Irvine at Walter Pyramid.
UCI put together an impressive three-game winning streak earlier this month to surge above .500 overall, but it fell back to 10-10 following a loss last Saturday at UC Riverside, 68-58. The setback dropped the Anteaters to 4-3 in the Big West, and they are just 3-8 in true road games.
LBSU's season got off to a disappointing start, as it dropped eight of its first 13 games, but since conference play began it is looking like the dominant Big West team it has been in recent years. The 49ers defeated Cal State Fullerton last Saturday, 81-71, and they now return to Walter Pyramid where they have won 20 straight league games.
LBSU has won four consecutive games against UCI, including in a 68-57 decision in the semifinals of the 2012 Big West Conference Tournament. As a result, the 49ers lead the all-time series, 56-33.
The Anteaters usually play very well at both ends of the court, as they outshoot their opponents, 44 percent to 37.6 percent, and average 70.6 ppg, That said, they did not play well the last weekend at UC Riverside, shooting a poor 31.7 percent from the field, and although they drained seven 3-pointers, it took 32 attempts to get there (.219). Daman Starring was the only player to score in double figures with 22 points, but his showing from the floor left quite a bit to be desired (6-of-16). Starring is usually much more efficient en route to a team-high 14.1 ppg, shooting 44.8 percent from the floor, which includes the conference's fifth-best 3-point percentage (.457). Although no other UCI player averages double figures, Chris McNealy (9.5 ppg), Adam Folker (8.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Alex Young (8.7 ppg), Michael Wilder (7.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Will Davis II (7.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) make for one of the deepest rotations in the league. Young and Wilder have done a great job distributing the basketball, as the two have combined for 138 assists (6.9 pg) compared to just 57 turnovers.
LBSU put forth a stellar effort at the offensive end of the floor on the road in its latest bout, shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 21-of-29 from the foul line (.724), while outrebounding Fullerton, 51-31, on its way to a 10- point victory. James Ennis was outstanding with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Keala King also tallied a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards while adding seven assists for good measure. Deng Deng netted 15 points coming off the bench, and Mike Caffey chipped in with 14 points and five assists. Despite the 49ers' first-place standing in the Big West, it still ranks in the lower half of the league in both scoring offense (69.9 ppg) and scoring defense (73.7 ppg), and it also inexplicably boasts negative rebounding (minus-3.0) and turnover (minus-1.1) margins. Ennis is the unquestioned catalyst, as he leads the team in scoring (17.0 ppg), rebounding (7.2), steals (1.5) and blocks (1.8). Caffey (12.5 ppg, 4.4 apg) and King (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.7 apg) are strong contributors in the backcourt, and Tony Freeland (10.1 ppg) and Dan Jennings (9.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) assist an otherwise deep squad.
This should be an exciting game between two of the more talented squads in the Big West. With the home court advantage on their side, expect the 49ers to continue their winning ways.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Long Beach State 81, UC Irvine 74
01/26 10:36:51 ET