UCI Still the Best in the Big West

The UCI men’s basketball team hasn’t lost a game all year. Granted they’ve only played five games so far in 2014, the ’Eaters 5-0 record is still an impressive feat.

Thursday night, the Anteaters matched up against the Cal State Fullerton Titans, in their third Big West game of the year. Continuing their stellar inter-conference play, the Anteaters came out on top beating the Titans at the Bren Events Center 72-54.

Led by senior guard Chris McNealy who scored 22 points in the contest, the Anteaters once again showed the depth of their roster, with 10 players registering at least one basket in the contest. McNealy continued his phenomenal play on both ends of the court, sparking the Anteater’s first half run with a strong dunk down the baseline.

The story of the game though, like so many others this season, was the efficiency of Coach Russell Turner’s 2-3 Zone Defense. Perhaps following in the footsteps of Coach Jim Boeheim, who has led Syracuse to nine Big East regular season championships, Coach Turner’s zone was on full display Thursday night, holding the Titans to just 15 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while forcing eight turnovers.

During his tenure at UC Irvine, Coach Turner has been a strong advocate of the zone. At times it has looked brilliant, while at other times (such as against Fresno State, when the Anteaters gave up 14 three-pointers) it has looked dismal. During this stretch however, the Anteaters have proven how tough their zone can really be.

It seems that Turner has finally found the right formula for his Anteaters, who have held opponents to just under 54 points per game during their five game winning streak. Their work in practice has clearly translated onto the court, with sharper rotations on the perimeter, and an overall better sense of communication on the defensive end.

Despite the brilliant play during this recent stretch, the Anteaters must continue to improve if they hope to make some noise in the Big West this year. While the 3-0 conference start is their best since 2006, Cal Poly  is right behind them in the standings, with a 3-1 conference record.

There are still several questions that linger for the Anteaters, such as how to incorporate their young center Mamadou N’diaye in their offense, without slowing the game down. N’diaye has been playing better as of late, but must get more involved both offensively and defensively in order for the ’Eaters to have a strong impact in the conference.

The Anteaters know that their work is cut out for them, but this group of guys has proven time and time again that they are willing to put in the work. Led by great play from their seniors, as well as flashes of brilliance from their young freshmen, Coach Turner and the Anteaters continue to show the Big West, as well as the rest of the NCAA, that they are here to play.