In a tuneup game before the DIRECTV Wooden Legacy tournament this Thanksgiving weekend, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team (4-0) defeated the Santa Clara Broncos Monday night, making this the best start in program’s history in over 33 years.
Junior guard Luke Nelson had his second consecutive 20-point game as he ended the night with 20 points, six assists, two rebounds, a block and a steal to fuel the 79-61 victory over the Broncos. Junior center Mamadou Ndiaye also contributed down low with 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. It was the ‘Eaters’ hot start on defense that put the game out of reach for the Broncos (0-5) in the first half, holding them to a staggering 16 percent shooting from the field.
Continuing their streak of hot starts, the ‘Eaters came out of the gate with a 10-0 run to force a Bronco timeout nearly three minutes into the game. The Broncos struggled early to shoot from beyond the arc as they shot an egregious 10 percent in the first half. The ‘Eaters held Santa Clara to under 10 points in nearly 15 minutes of the game as they began to pull away and be on top to as many as 23 points in the first period. The ‘Eaters ended the first half with a 35-19 lead in front of a crowd of 2359 at the Bren Events Center.
“I’m happy with our performance overall,” said head coach Russell Turner. “We set the tone in the game [early] with our defense, and extended the lead on them and did what we should do against an inexperienced team.”
As UCI’s starting lineup padded the lead to as many as 26 in the second half, it was the ‘Eaters’ second unit that struggled to close strong, and ultimately let the Broncos cut the lead to 14 with 2:48 left in the game. The ‘Eaters were only able to outscore the Broncos by two points in the second half, 44-42, but managed to put the game away with six late game free throws.
“We didn’t handle the increase of physicality and pressure that they put on us at the end when we were significantly ahead,” said Turner. “I’m concerned at that lack of killer instinct to finish game against an inexperienced team.“
The ‘Eaters will participate in the 2015 Wooden Legacy tournament, where they will open up against Boise State in Fullerton on Thanksgiving. The game will be aired on ESPNU at 1 p.m.