UC Irvine (5-7) at USC (4-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, December 20, 11 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Galen Center (10,258) -- Los Angeles , California. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: UC Irvine 3-1, USC 3-2. Away Record: UC Irvine 1-5, USC 0-2. Neutral Record: UC Irvine 1-1, USC 1-2. Conference Record: UC Irvine 0-0, USC 0-0. Series Record: USC leads, 6-1.
GAMES NOTES: In an instate showdown the UC Irvine Anteaters will travel to the Galen Center to square off with the USC Trojans on Thursday night.
This is the second game in three days for UC Irvine which was handed a 66-60 loss at home from LSU on Tuesday night. The loss was the second in the last three games for the Anteaters and dropped them to 5-7 overall this season. The Anteaters have spent a great deal of the year on the road with six matchups away from the Brent Center. The Anteaters have collected just a single win in those contests, a 58-51 victory over Fresno State. UC Irvine will be back at home to play UC Davis in its next time out.
USC put an end to a five-game losing streak in its last outing when it topped UC Riverside 70-26 in the second game of a three-contest homestand. The Trojans had lost to Minnesota (71-57) in the first matchup. The Trojans' losing streak took a big hit on the overall record for USC which is 4-6 overall entering this contest. The Trojans have had mixed results at home with a record of 3-2, although they have lost consecutive games they have hosted. USC hits the road for one game against Georgia before a three-game homestand that takes it into the new year.
UC Irvine won the first ever meeting between these teams in 1983. Since then the Trojans have won six straight to earn a 6-1 all-time series edge.
After trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half against LSU, UC Irvine managed to cut its disadvantage to three points, 62-59, with 48 seconds left. However the Anteaters missed its last two shots and had a turn over in the waning seconds as the rally fell short. Adam Folker scored a team-high 13 points and Michael Wilder was a rebound shy of a double-double (11 points, 9 rebounds).
The Anteaters do two things extremely well. UC Irvine is the fifth best rebounding team in the country (45.0 pg), while limiting opponents to the 11th lowest field goal percentage (.353) nationally as well. Moving the ball is also a strength for UC IRvine which assists on 17.2 field goals per contest, the 13th best mark in the country. That type of ball movement has helped the Anteaters score a solid 70.6 points per game, while shooting 42.6 percent from the field. That has allowed the Anteaters to hold a +7.1 scoring margin despite the losing record. It bears mentioning that those numbers have been colored by defeats of lower level teams like San Diego Christian (94-82) and PAcific (116-47). Daman Starring (12.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) is the only player on the roster scoring in double figures. Folker (7.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg) clearly has the ability to score and is the top player on the boards. Chris MCNealy (9.2 ppg) has provided some solid scoring efforts primarily as a reserve.
The Trojans got very little resistance from UC Riverside last Saturday. USC hit on 52.0 percent of its shots in the contests, including a 71.4 percent effort in the first half, and outscored the Highlanders 27-3 from beyond the arc. The Trojans also limited the Highlanders to a dismal 19.0 percent shooting performance. Jio Fontan and Eric Wise each tallied 14 points as the only players in double figures for either team.
Normally offensive efficiency is not a strength for USC which is the second worst offensive squad in the Pac-12, scoring 64.1 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting. The Trojans are also at the bottom of the conference in rebounding (34.5 ppg) although they hold a slim advantage (+0.2) on the boards. USC does tighten up on defense by allowing 63.7 points on 40.3 percent shooting on average. The Trojans rely on a balanced offensive attack as only a pair of players are averaging in double figures. Wise (10.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and J.T. Terrell (10.7 ppg) are those two players but neither is a prolific scorer by any means. Byron Wesley (9.6 ppg) and Fontan (9.1 ppg, 5.2 apg) have the ability to score in double figures, especially Fontan who has averaged 12.7 points per game over his career. Fontan is a strong distributor and ranks third in the Pac-12 in assists.
On paper, UC Irvine looks like the better team but the Anteaters have earned some of their stellar numbers against lesser competition. USC is a stingy defensive squad that will play tough at home which will be trouble for UC Riverside, which struggles on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 72, UC Riverside 61
12/20 10:38:17 ET