IRVINE — You never get a second chance to make a first impression. But it certainly helps if you get the rebound .
UC Irvine gnawed, clawed, banged and barged its way to 21 of its 51 rebounds on the offensive glass to earn an eye-opening 78-64 nonconference men's basketball win over Nevada in front of 1,561 at the Bren Events Center on Saturday.
The Anteaters posted a plus-14 rebounding advantage over the Wolf Pack, who won 28 games in a 2011-12 season that ended in the NIT quarterfinals.
UCI senior guard Daman Starring scored a career-high 25 points to help the hosts, who were coming off a 12-20 campaign, as the Anteaters impressed with their pluck and their poise.
The win was the Anteaters' first over Nevada in 15 seasons and halted a seven-game losing streak to their former Big West Conference rivals who this year shift from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference.
The Anteaters picked up where they left off last season, when they upset Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals and played eventual champion Long Beach State tough in a semifinal loss.
"It's huge," Starring said of the win, which marked the first opening triumph in Coach Russell Turner's three seasons at the helm. "[Nevada is] a good team and their guards are some of the best on the West Coast. We prepared hard and we played really well tonight. But we have a big game Tuesday [at UCLA], so it's no time to celebrate."
Starring, who scored 14 in the second half, was seven for 15 from the field and 10 for 10 from the free-throw line. He also chipped in seven rebounds to help fuel a 21-11 UCI edge on the offensive glass.
UCI had four put-back baskets and a 15-2 bulge in second-chance points in the first half to claim a 41-35 intermission lead.
And with only eight turnovers, UCI was able to overcome some shaky foul shooting in the second half (13 for 21 including six straight misses in a four-minute span late) to deliver what some would say was sign of a brighter season to come.
"We think it was [a statement]," Starring said. "We ended the season pretty well last year, but we expect a lot out of ourselves this year. So, hopefully, that's a sign of things to come."
Turner said his team's defense was much better than during last year's conference tournament run. He also said his team's 36 points in the paint, the aforementioned rebounding advantage, and nine blocked shots, helped emphasize a much more substantial frontline presence this season.
"I was happy with the competitive level we showed over the course of 40 minutes," Turner said. "That's a big step for us."
Senior Mike Wilder had 12 points and 11 rebounds, while senior Adam Folker chipped in nine boards and six points for the winners.
Will Davis had eight points, seven rebounds and four of the 'Eaters' nine blocked shots, while freshman guard Alex Young had 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in 21 reserve minutes.
UCI made just three of the game's four three-pointers, limiting Nevada to just one of eight from beyond the arc. The Wolf Pack shot 34.5% from the field and had 11 turnovers.
"It was, for us four [UCI] seniors, the last first home game," Starring said. "It was a good chance for us to be able to sustain our momentum for the full 40 minutes and we've just got to keep building from there."