When the opponent represents something called the United States Collegiate Athletic Assn., the matter of competitive superiority is hardly debatable for any NCAA Division I men's basketball program. But UC Irvine Coach Russ Turner was content that his Anteaters continued to make progress in a 110-73 nonconference thumping of Pacifica College at the Bren Events Center on Sunday .
Pacifica, a unique institution billed as the only true sports "university" in the country, is based in Anaheim this season, its third locale in the last year. But the Gladiators appear to have rounded up enough basketball talent to avoid the 116-47 loss that UCI pasted on them last season.
"They're better," Turner said of Pacifica, which led, 14-12 and 21-10, before the Anteaters assumed control.
UCI (2-2) clearly utilized the opportunity to get some seasoning for some of its reserves, as only one starter played more than 14 minutes and 12 of the 14 who played, all of whom scored, logged double-digit minutes.
Freshmen reserves Ioannis Dimakopoulos and Jaron Martin had 16 and 14 points, respectively, and junior John Ryan also produced 14 points to help the hosts register a 75-29 advantage in bench scoring.
Dimakopoulos, a 7-foot forward from Greece, made six of nine field-goal attempts, including one of two three-point tries. He also made three of four free throws to help the 'Eaters finish 22 of 26 from the foul line.
UCI came in shooting a woeful 53.9% from the free-throw line, but lifted that total to 60.1%. UCI also made 41 of 79 field-goal attempts (58.6%) and is now shooting an impressive 54.9% for the season.
UCI also upped its scoring average from 87.3 to 93 points per game.
"To give them nine threes is something we need to get better at, but we've gotten better defensively since our first game," Turner said. "It's a struggle right now trying to figure out how we can be aggressive without fouling, but that's something that a lot of teams are having to deal with. The good news is, we are playing unselfishly on offense (28 assists Sunday), we're converting a lot of shots and we have guys who can make plays. I'm excited about that and everybody in our locker room knows we are going to be better defensively."
Pacifica finished at 42.4% from the field (27 for 64) and had 21 of the game's 31 turnovers.
UCI starters Will Davis (five for six from the field) and Luke Nelson, who had eight assists and three steals, chipped in 13 points in 11 minutes and 12 points in 21 minutes, respectively.
Ryan, who at 6-10 helped take advantage of the smaller Gladiators, whose tallest player was 6-6, led the winners with six rebounds as they produced a 40-30 advantage in that department.
Nelson, Ryan, Dimakopoulos, Aaron Wright (seven points) and Ege Mala (six) had career-best scoring nights, while Dominique Dunning matched his career-high with seven points.
Mamadou Ndiaye, a 7-6 freshman who had 18 points, a Big West Conference record nine blocks and eight rebounds in Thursday's 86-72 win at Washington, had four points and five rebounds in eight minutes.
UCI had zero blocks after producing 20 in its first three contests.
UCI had 66 points in the paint to just 20 for the visitors (0-2), who were led by 6-6 junior Rafael Morelos' 22 points and eight rebounds.
"I'm pleased we made our free throws," Turner said. "We've just got to give attention to the areas where we're not as good as we need to be. We're doing that. We have a long way to go and the tournament we have coming up will also expose things we need to improve."
UCI will play host to Long Island University Brooklyn on Friday at 7 p.m., Boston University on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and Eastern Washington on Sunday at 4 p.m. as part of the 2K Sports Classic.