Antourage Insider: December Preview

Saturday’s dominating 77-56 win over Marist was a cakewalk, and expectedly so. It was good to see Derrick Strings and Peter Simek put some points on the board — Strings finally putting that pretty shot to use with five 3-pointers, while Simek was surprisingly deadly with the 18-foot jumper.

Although the Antourage Insider will be outside the office for the month of December, the ’Eaters will be heading into the bulk of their non-conference schedule. Here’s what to expect over the rest of fall quarter and winter break.

Home games: San Jose State on Dec. 4, Wyoming on Dec. 10, Vanguard on Dec. 15, UC Riverside on Dec. 28 and Loyola Marymount Dec. 30.

Led by guard Adrian Oliver, San Jose State beat UC Irvine twice last season, despite a career-high 31 points from Eric Wise in San Jose. Oliver is back as a senior for the Spartans, and they have showed promise early, beating Oregon, University of San Francisco and Eastern Washington already. This will be a tough game for the ’Eaters and an interesting gauge at how far they’ve come since last year.

On a side note: former ’Eater Matt Ballard now suits up for the Spartans, after being discovered in — believe it or not — intramural basketball. Ballard was a part of the 2007-2008 UCI team that went to the Big West Tournament finals before playing for local Irvine Valley College. He only averaged 0.3 points per game in 24 games as a freshman, but the San Jose St. website unflinchingly notes that the “Anteaters won every game in which he scored.” Ballard has evidently come a long way, as he now starts for the Spartans at center. Still, the affable big man is only averaging 2.3 points per game, racking up an impressive 14 fouls in his first three games.

Wyoming returns all five starters and played big schools Missouri and Providence pretty tough. On the Friday of finals week, the game should be a great reward for all students celebrating the end of the quarter. I foresee another close game that will test UCI.

Vanguard should be an easy win for UCI. They are now coached by Rhett Soliday, who spent the last four years as an assistant coach at UCI. Soliday, who is now rocking a mustache and beard, apparently also lured one-time UCI recruit Ben Hayes to Vanguard. Hayes was part of Head Coach Pat Douglass’ last recruiting class at UCI, but left the team when new head coach Russell Turner came on board.

UC Riverside marks the first game of the Big West conference slate, and a game that the Anteaters should win if they want to contend for the Big West title. I’m sure they will be starting the conference schedule with an increased energy. Even though the Highlanders have a massive turnover of players this year, no game in the Big West is a guarantee. UCR really suffered with the early departure of former star Kyle Austin, who forwent a year of eligibility to play professionally in Spain.

Loyola Marymount comes to the Bren in their third match-up in four years with the ’Eaters. Despite some preseason hype, LMU has disappointed badly so far, losing to Cal Poly. Hopefully, UCI can make it three wins in three games against the Lions.

For the adventurous … UCI plays three non-conference games in Southern California over break as well. West Coast Conference members Pepperdine and San Diego always make for close games, but the real highlight is our big brother to the north, UCLA. I highly recommend traveling to Pauley Pavilion for the game against UCLA on Dec. 23. UCI has not played the Bruins since 2004, when a team that featured Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo as freshmen defeated UCI 76-65. The Anteaters last beat UCLA in 1988, when Kevin Floyd took an inbounds pass with 5 seconds left in the game, and promptly drove the length of the court for a lay-in at the buzzer. In the first meeting between the schools, UCI took down the Bruins 80-74 in the first round of the NIT on March 13, 1986. So make the drive up to legendary Nell & John Wooden Court, and see if our ’Eaters can’t make some more history.