Bring On The Big West

The UC Irvine’s men’s basketball team has strung together four wins in a row with wins over two conference opponents this week, including reigning Big West champion Long Beach State in the Big West conference opener.

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

In a thrilling matchup that came down to the final seconds, the Anteaters defeated the Long Beach State 49ers 46-44, delivering a crucial loss to the team that has taken the last three consecutive Big West titles. The victory was secured by a spectacular dunk made by the 7-foot-6 UCI star Mamadou Ndiaye and a clutch free throw sunk by second-year Mike Best with just over two minutes remaining in the game.

Although Best missed his second free-throw attempt, Long Beach State could not capitalize on the next play. The 49ers drove the ball past the half court line only to have the game end with a missed three pointer as time expired, giving the Anteaters their 10th victory of the season.

Despite the narrow margin of victory, the Anteaters defense played exceptionally well, holding the 49ers to just 31.5 percent shooting from the field. Their 15 turnovers were also slightly offset by their 42 rebounds compared to Long Beach State’s 35.

Senior guard Chris McNealy led the Anteaters in points with 12, and in assists with four, while Ndiaye accounted for 11 of the  team’s total rebounds.

The Anteaters displayed their dominance in a much more decisive victory over conference rival UC Riverside on Saturday night. Despite not playing starters Will Davis and Ndiaye, the Anteaters defeated the Highlanders 72-52, at Riverside, in the conference matchup.

Sophomore Mike Best and junior John Ryan filled in for Davis and aptly filled the roles of the resting starters. Best performed well and ended the game with nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks.

Ndiaye and Davis, two of the Anteaters’ standout players, were both sitting out due to minor injuries, and are expected to return for the Anteaters’ conference home opener against California State Fullerton this Thursday. The contest against UCR was the first action both Ndiaye and Davis had missed all season.

In a much more disciplined performance than that displayed against Long Beach State, the Anteaters only committed four turnovers over the course of the entire contest. The Anteaters did not turn the ball over until late in the game, and did not allow UCR any points off of their turnovers.

Stepping up on offense for the Anteaters were Chris McNealy with 13 points and Luke Nelson with 14 points. Starting guard Alex Young recorded eight assists in the contest and the Anteaters finished at a remarkable 52.4 percent from the three-point line, and 48.1 percent overall from the field. In total, eight different Anteaters finished the game with a made three-point basket.

The Anteaters are looking good at this point in the season, and currently possess the best record in the Big West at 11-7 and are undefeated in their two conference games. Over the last two games, Mike Best has proven himself an asset to the team. He stepped up and played well when two starters were out against UC Riverside, a game in which he felt he gave the best performance of his career.

Cal State Northridge is only one game behind the Anteaters in the Big West standings, but the Anteaters should not be losing anytime soon. On Thursday, the Anteaters will host Cal State Fullerton (6-9) at 7:00 p.m. at the Bren Events Center. UCI should handle the Titans well in their conference home opener, especially with the return of standouts Ndiaye and Davis and the help of their emerging star in Best.