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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 27, 10 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bren Events Center (4,984) -- Irvine, California. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: UCSB 9-3, UCI 9-4. Away Record: UCSB 7-4, UCI 9-6. Neutral Record: UCSB 2-0, UCI 0-0. Conference Record: UCSB 9-3, UCI 9-3. Series Record: UC Santa Barbara leads, 49-31.
GAME NOTES: With first place in the Big West Conference on the line, the UC Irvine Anteaters will play host to the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at the Bren Events Center on Thursday night.
Both UCSB and UCI are 9-3 in league play with four regular-season contests left. Long Beach State (8-4) and Hawaii (8-5) are also still alive for the conference crown.
The Gauchos have surged up the standings in recent weeks with victories in two straight and six of their last seven to improve to 18-7 overall. Their latest bout ended in a convincing 80-65 home triumph over Cal State Fullerton last Saturday.
The Anteaters had been winners of five in a row and sat alone in first place prior to their 81-75 setback on Saturday at Cal State Northridge. They are now 18-10 on the campaign and have enjoyed plenty of success on their home floor (9-4).
UCSB earned an easy 80-60 home win over UCI in the first meeting this season back on Jan. 30, as it improved its standing in the all-time series to 49-31.
The Gauchos opened up a 13-point halftime lead over Fullerton in their latest bout and cruised to the victory from there, as they shot a lofty 56.5 percent on their field goal tries and knocked down 24-of-32 at the free-throw line (.750). Alan Williams was the catalyst with a monster effort from the frontcourt, recording 22 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks for his 13th double-double of the season. Zalmico Harmon was also outstanding with 20 points and 10 assists paired with zero turnovers, and Michael Bryson chipped in 14 points.
UCSB has been strong on both ends of the floor this season, shooting a lofty 46.8 percent from the field for 72.6 ppg while allowing just 65.4 ppg on 39.9 percent shooting. Williams is on the fast track to winning the Big West Player of the Year at season's end, as he leads the conference in scoring (22.5 ppg) and leads the nation in rebounding (12.0 rpg). Bryson (10.8 ppg), Kyle Boswell (10.4 ppg) and Harmon (8.2 ppg, 5.2 apg) are also regular contributors.
The Anteaters led by as many as 15 points with less than eight minutes to play in their most recent matchup but suffered an epic collapse down the stretch, as they were outscored the rest of the way, 26-5, as they dropped the six- point decision. Although they shot 50 percent from the field, they were a dreadful 10-of-23 from the foul line, while CSUN knocked down an outstanding 38-of-43 from the stripe. Luke Nelson finished with a team-high 17 points on 4-of-8 from 3-point range, Chris McNealy added 12 points and Alex Young tallied eight points, eight assists, five rebounds and five steals.
On the season, UCI has a similarly well-rounded attack as UCSB, as it outshoots its opponents from the field, 47.5 percent to 38 percent, for a +6.1 scoring margin. Nelson is the leading scorer with 12.3 ppg, having made 60 3- pointers at a 37 percent clip. McNealy (11.6 ppg), Will Davis II (10.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Young (8.9 ppg, 4.6 apg) and Mamadou Ndiaye (8.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg) round out the strong starting five. Ndiaye has just 126 field goal attempts, so his eye-popping .738 field goal percentage doesn't qualify among the nation's best, but he's been awful from the free-throw line (38-of-100).
In a matchup between otherwise well-matched teams, expect UCI's homecourt advantage to make the difference as it gets back on the winning track.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UC Irvine 73, UC Santa Barbara 72
02/27 10:17:59 ET
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