UC Irvine Pregame
Thursday, 7 p.m. at Stan Sheriff Center
The UC Irvine men's basketball team tries to extend its winning streak to five straight and remain in sole possession of first place in the Big West Conference in Thursday's road challenge at Hawaii.
The Anteaters, who ran first in the conference in field-goal-percentage defense (38.1%), face the conference's highest-scoring team in the Rainbow Warriors (81.4 per game).
UCI has been winning recently without a large contribution from 6-foot-8 junior Will Davis, who was arguably the team's best player the first half of the season. Davis still ranks third on the team in scoring (10.3 per game) and leads the squad in rebounds per game (6.4). But in the last five games, he has just 20 points and 15 rebounds and in the last three games, he has 10 points and is five for 14 from the field. He missed conference games at UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a back problem and he has not attempted a free throw since Feb. 16 at home against Cal State Northridge.
UCI (17-9, 8-2 in conference), attempting to win its first Big West regular-season title in more than a decade, is one game ahead of UC Santa Barbara (7-3 in conference) and 1.5 games ahead of Hawaii (18-7, 7-4) and Long Beach State.
After road dates against Hawaii and Saturday at Cal State Northridge, UCI plays three of its final four conference games at home.
UCI is led by freshman guard Luke Nelson (12.1 points per game), followed by senior Chris McNealy (11.6), Davis, sophomore guard Alex Young (9.2) and 7-6 freshman center Mamadou Ndiaye (9.4).
Ndiaye's 84 blocks this season rank No. 4 in the nation and are four shy of tying Davis' single-season school record set last season. Ndiaye is also averaging 6.1 rebounds per game74.6% from the field (88 for 118).
Young leads the team with 4.5 assists per contest, while Nelson's 54 three-pointers are tops on the squad.
Hawaii defeated UCI, 90-86, in overtime in their first meeting, Jan. 25 at the Bren Events Center. Sophomore Isaac Fotu had 30 points (13 for 16 fro the field).
Senior Christian Standhardinger leads Hawaii in scoring (17.6 per game) and rebounding (8.7 per outing).
Fotu averages 15.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
This is the 11th meeting between the two teams, who have split the previous 10.
— Barry Faulkner