UC Irvine Pregame

Vs. UC Santa Barbara

Thursday, 7 p.m. at Bren Events Center

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UC Irvine attempts to move closer to the men's basketball program's first Big West Conference title since the 2001-02 season when it faces co-conference leader UC Santa Barbara on Thursday at 7 p.m.

The Anteaters (18-10, 9-3 in conference) lost sole possession of first after an 81-75 loss at Cal State Northridge on Saturday. The Anteaters, who have won 11 of their last 14, are ranked No. 22 in the CollegeInsider.com mid-major top-15 poll.

UCSB (18-7, 9-3) is ranked No. 13 in the mid-major poll and defeated UCI, 80-60, at home on Jan. 30.

The Gauchos feature the top player in the conference in 6-foot-7 junior forward Alan Williams. Williams, a five-time conference player of the week this season, leads the nation in rebounding at 12 per game and is averaging 22.5 points per contest. He has 13 double-doubles this season, including 26 points and 10 rebounds against UCI in the first meeting this season.

The Anteaters feature a balanced scoring attack led by freshman Luke Nelson (12.3). Also productive is senior Chris McNealy (11.6), junior Will Davis (10.3), sophomore Alex Young (8.9) and 7-6 freshman Mamadou Ndiaye (8.3).

Ndiaye ranks No. 4 nationally with 86 blocks and needs three blocks to break the school single-season record set by Davis last season. Ndiaye averages 6.1 rebounds, just off the pace of team leader Davis (6.3).

UCI ranks sixth nationally in field-goal percentage defense (.380) and is ninth in assists per game (16.3).

UCI was picked to win the Big West in a preseason media poll, with UCSB right behind in the No. 2 spot.

Tonight's winner gets the inside track on the title and will have three regular-season conference games remaining.

— Barry Faulkner