Inexperience continues to cost UC Irvine’s men’s basketball team. Over Thanksgiving break, Irvine finished 0-3 in the Great Alaskan Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska, extending their losing streak to six. With double-digit losses to Southern Miss., Central Michigan and Alaska-Anchorage, the Anteaters haven’t won since defeating San Diego Christian, 84-63, on Nov. 5 to close out their undefeated preseason.
UCI 67, SMU 78 (Nov. 24)
C Adam Folker – 1 point, 3 rebounds, 1 block and 1 assist in 19 minutes.
PF Mike Wilder – 11 points, 5 rebounds and 1 assist in 28 minutes.
SF Chris McNealy – 15 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assist, and 3 steals in 33 minutes.
SG Daman Starring – 15 points, 6 rebounds and 6 turnovers in 31 minutes.
PG Derick Flowers – 0 points, 1 rebound, fouled out after just 18 minutes.
UCI 72, CMU 82 (Nov. 25)
C Will Davis II – 4 points, 11 rebounds and 1 block in 22 minutes.
PF Mike Wilder – 19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals in 29 minutes.
SF Chris McNealy – 5 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in 26 minutes.
SG Daman Starring – 20 points, 3 steals and 2 rebounds in 30 minutes.
PG Aaron Wright – 5 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists in 22 minutes.
UCI 63, UAA 77 (Nov. 26)
C Adam Folker – 4 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist in 15 minutes.
PF Mike Wilder – 6 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in 33 minutes.
SF Chris McNealy – 8 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assist in 26 minutes.
SG Daman Starring – 21 points and 7 rebounds in 37 minutes.
PG Aaron Wright – 3 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 19 minutes.
Enjoying themselves: UCI touched down in Alaska on Wednesday and wasted no time, running through two practices and experiencing the Alaskan tradition of dog sledding before tipping-off against Southern Miss on Nov. 24. Despite a rough start to the season, the team is committed to improvement and they seem to have avoided any schisms at this point.
In another showing of camaraderie, several Anteaters headed over to Palo Alto to see Andrew Luck and the Stanford football team’s loss to the Oregon Ducks, 53-30, after losing their season opener at Cal on Nov. 11.
Rebuilding hasn’t been easy, but the Anteaters have remained positive. With four seasons of eligibility remaining for each of his eight freshmen, Coach Russell Turner hopes that his players continue to work with the goal that their effort pays off over time.
“I have a resilient team that works hard and wants to win but is having trouble finishing at the rim,” Turner said after the 10-point loss to Central Michigan.
“I still believe we can be a good team,” Turner said after losing the finale in Alaska, “but we have a lot of areas to work on.”
3-Point Shooting Starring: Daman Starring averaged 18.7 points per game at the Great Alaska Shootout, but he’s simply a role player attempting to be a star. To his credit, Starring’s effort has kept an outmatched team in ballgames, but he would be a much better fit in a supporting role as a spot-up shooter.
Starring has been lights-out from three-point land, but he’s also been trying to fill the shoes of Darren Moore, who frequently slashed to the basket last season. For Starring, however, that approach hasn’t been working. From inside the three-point line this season, Starring has made just 32.4 percent of his shots, while draining an impressive 52.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
The Anteaters desperately need to recruit a guard or a forward who can take over the game much like Eric Wise did in his three seasons at UCI. Starring has given valiant efforts recently, but he’s simply not a go-to guy. Wilder, McNealy and Starring are role players who would thrive alongside a game-changer.
Let’s see if Turner can find one on the recruiting trail. As an in-house solution for this season, freshman forward Will Davis II has shown flashes of brilliance. Davis needs to step out of his comfort zone and take control of the game in this rebuilding season because leadership is up for grabs on the young Anteater squad.
Mystery in Alaska: Senior center Adam Folker averaged just 2.3 points, 3 rebounds and 22.3 minutes per game this past weekend. Folker had eight points and nine rebounds at San Jose State earlier in the season, but I’m starting to wonder if he came back from injury too soon.
The big man has played in seven games in three weeks, which he hasn’t done in two years, and he has averaged 16 minutes per game. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Canadian center will wear down or flourish as the season continues.
Scratching my head: Freshman center Mike Best played just five minutes against Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday, eight minutes on Friday against Central Michigan, and 10 minutes against Southern Miss on Thanksgiving. He scored a grand total of one point in those three games, which begs the question: Why wasn’t he redshirted?
Best is 6’10, 200 pounds with a frail frame. He has decent ball-handling, a shooter’s touch and shot-blocking potential – registering four blocks in just 13 minutes against Weber State on Nov. 19.
Turner made the decision to play Best this year. He could have given the twig a chance to grow into a branch, but he didn’t. Now Turner needs to slot Best at power forward or small forward and abandon hope in him as a center, at least for this season. Best has potential as an outside shooter and could give Big West small forwards or power forwards fits if he played with both Folker and Davis. Best might need some meat on his bones, but it doesn’t mean that he’s a lost cause.
Shaking things up: Turner has experimented early in the season with small lineups, most recently starting four guards and a center against Alaska-Anchorage. The Anteaters should continue to start a small starting lineup while subbing in a big man lineup with Best and Folker coming off the bench together to relieve Davis and Wilder down low.
Turner should consider reconstructing the starting lineup that he called upon in the Anteaters’ 10-point loss against Central Michigan (4-2) on Friday. That lineup was: Davis (7.5 points, 7.2 rebounds per game) at center, Wilder (9.2 points, 4.2 rebounds per game) at power forward, sophomore Chris McNealy (8.8 points, 6.7 rebounds per game) at small forward, Starring (14.0 points, 3.5 rebounds per game) at shooting guard and freshman Aaron Wright (7.3 points, 3.0 rebounds per game) at point guard.
Playing small has its benefits. The Anteaters can push the pace with Davis, Wilder, McNealy, Starring and Wright on the court, and when the starters need rest, slowing the game down and having both 6’9 Folker and 6’10 Best down low to bang for rebounds would help the Anteaters – who have been outrebounded by almost five boards a game this season.
Looking ahead: UCI will face the University of San Diego at home on Dec. 3. Last season, UCI defeated the Toreros 77-52, but that was a different UCI squad. Maybe home cooking and a friendly gym will sway the balance in their favor, but after being outscored by an average of 11 points per game in the first six games and struggling against Division II Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday, Irvine will need to learn how to play defense and secure rebounds to secure a win before the New Year.
Prediction: USD 68, UCI 65