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UCI Basketball Recruiting Update: Welcome aboard Conor Clifford, happy trails to Marcus Bradley

UCI's new center.

Some basketball recruiting news while John Speraw gets his team ready for the MPSF Tournament beginning tomorrow…

  • Coach Russell Turner and his staff has added a true center to next year’s class with the commitment of center Conor Clifford. Unofficial affirmation from Clifford’s father and various message board rumors were confirmed on Monday when UC Irvine and Ocean View High School announced that the 7-foot center has committed to becoming an Anteater. The half-Japanese half-Irish local product (NOT the Irish professional footballer) will have four years of eligibility beginning in 2012-13, adding a “true big man” to the program. Clifford was named All-CIF 2AA while being honored by the Orange County Register. He also received a scout grade of 80 from ESPN, drawing positive remarks.

Clifford has a huge frame with solid length and he possesses some of the best hands in basketball. He has been well taught in the fundamentals and his post moves are getting better. Due to his big frame he knows how to get big and give his passer a [big target]…

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Survivor Winner Aras Baskauskas gives UCI a shout out

Longtime UCI men’s basketball fans will remember Aras Baskauskas as a scrappy guard who played for UCI from 2001-04, never averaging more than 2 PPG. Hardcore Survivor fans will remember him playing a brilliant game while winning Survivor: Panama Exile Island, which aired in 2006.

I wasn’t around for either event, but it was still cool to hear Baskauskas enthusiastically say “Zot Zot Zot! That’s right! Anteaters, baby!” during a shout out to Anteater basketball on a recent episode of Rob Has a Podcast, a popular Survivor/reality TV podcast.

Baskauskas calls UCI a “great school” and later comments that the Anteaters “haven’t had too many good seasons in a while, but hopefully next season we’ll win the Big West and get to the tournament.”

Regardless of his actual counting stats at UCI or his 15 minutes of fame on reality TV, it’s encouraging to see Anteater alums move on in life and become successful in other endeavors and life goals. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and remember that the young men and women we write about here on Zotcubed are doing more than just competing in a game. They’re learning life skills and earning an education and giving back to society in a way that will add to the prestige of a degree from UCI. Sometimes, the stats and the game results really do come secondary. Cheers, Aras!

The 2011-12 Anteaters In Review

Coach Russell Turner and juniors Michael Wilder and Daman Starring talk to the press after their loss on Friday in the Big West Tournament semi-finals. (Zotcubed)

As you all know by now, the 2011-12 season ended last Friday in Anaheim when UCI fell to Long Beach State 68-57 in the Big West Tournament semi-finals.

The Anteaters came out confident and firing on all cylinders, storming out to a 9-0 lead. Chris McNealy continued his strong play, and Daman Starring had one of his good shooting days. Michael Wilder also played to the best of his capacity, shooting the 3-ball so well that 49er fans were shouting for their team to not let him shoot. But in the end, UCI was simply over-matched against this senior-laden Long Beach State team, even without Larry Anderson. The 49ers are a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament which begins tomorrow (in earnest anyway… the First Four games have already been wildly entertaining), and it’s a position they’ve earned through several four-year players and a very tough schedule.

So with all of that being said, let’s give out a few awards and take a look toward next year.

Most Valuable Player: Adam Folker

Let’s face it. Without Folker, this team is largely screwed in the post. I can’t imagine Will Davis II, Mike Best and Wilder having to handle the opposing team’s big trees down low for 40 minutes a game. Besides this, Folker was often deemed as the guy who gave the most effort and had the most competitive spirit by Turner—all very important leadership qualities to have from your oldest guy on the team. This award can also double as most inspirational, as many doctors even advised Folker to retire from basketball due to the severity of his hip injury that he had to work back from.

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UCI and Long Beach State tip-off in 20 minutes at the Honda Center

The time is upon us. If UCI is going to build any credibility on the “David vs. Goliath” theme or even the “Giant Killer” motif, they’re going to need to put up a good effort against Long Beach State, a game televised on ESPN3 and ESPNU (tape delay). Both bands are in attendance here at the Honda Center, as well as a sizable crowd of Long Beach State fans. No UCI fans in sight… yet. If you’re reading this and within 20 minutes drive to the Honda Center, stop reading now and head on over.

With that being said, after the jump are some keys to the game if UCI is going to have a chance.

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UCI notches biggest win of the year, advances to second round

Chris McNealy led UCI with a career-high 24 points. (Zotcubed)

In one of the best team efforts of the season, UCI decided today that they weren’t ready for their season to be over, upsetting Cal State Fullerton 65-59. Chris McNealy poured in a career-high 24 points while Big West Hustle Player of the Year Adam Folker battled to the bitter end, contributing 10 points and 12 rebounds.

In the end, it was the team’s cohesive defensive effort that won the game. After giving up 94 and 100 points in the first two games against CSF, UCI held the Titans to 21 points in the first half. They limited turnovers for the most part and did a good job of slowing down previously on fire DJ Seeley. Although Fullerton, behind a Big West Tournament record 21 rebounds from Omondi Amoke, kept it close until very late, UCI was able to finish it off with an impressive closing effort.

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Big West Tournament 2012

I’m at the Honda Center for all three days this year, and will be updating as necessary between Big West and RushtheCourt responsibilities. For now, below is the season wrap-up and tournament preview I wrote for RTC. Here’s the link for the original posting of the story and the rest of my write-ups for them.

 

League Wrap-Up

By and large, the Big West wound up largely like the preseason prognosticators predicted. Long Beach State dominated with their senior-laden team, winning 15 straight in conference play before Cal State Fullerton tripped them up. CSF was probably the biggest surprise and also most improved over the season, as coach Bob Burton pulled together his team of transfers and formed an offensive powerhouse. UCSB once again had a slightly disappointing conference season, while UC Irvine did better than predicted, tying for sixth when they were picked last overall. UC Riverside peaked early, upsetting a few teams early in the season, threatening to break into the top half of the conference. However, they faded down the stretch, and finished tied for sixth, about where they were picked. UC Davis, picked to finish seventh, had an abysmal season that was only slightly salvaged by a late season surge where they managed to upset both Pacific and CSF.

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UCI falls to UCR in regular season finale, draws Fullerton in first round

UCR avenged their loss at UCI’s homecoming in late January last night by beating the Anteaters in their own homecoming game, 72-69. Although the Anteaters deserve credit for battling back in the second half, recovering from a 16-point deficit in the second half to force OT, a 7-0 UCR run to start the extra period proved too much for UCI in the end.

The loss locked UCI into the seventh seed in the Big  West Tournament, where they will take on Cal State Fullerton in the first round.The Titans upsetted Long Beach State on Saturday, dashing Long Beach State’s hopes for a perfect 16-0 conference slate. It looks grim for UCI, as they were swept by the Titans this season, traditionally a bad sign for the third game. The first time around, CSF built a gigantic lead which UCI made somewhat respectable in the second half, never really challenging for the lead. In the second game, UCI and CSF had a full-fledged shootout, with UCI scoring 94 but giving up 100 points to the Titans. Some fans may point at that game as a sign that the UCI have a chance at upsetting the Titans, but do not forget that CSF was missing senior forward Omondi Amoke in that game. He gives them a huge post presence that UCI will be hard-pressed to match.

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Quick Hits: Basketball gets smashed, Baseball struggling to score runs, Volleyball recovers swagger against weaker opponents

Depressing mix of headlines today, but certainly not doomsday by any means.

Long Beach State is simply the superior team this season. The truth hurts. (Zotcubed)

  • Men’s Basketball: It was Senior Day at the Long Beach Pyramid, and the 49ers definitely played like a team that has been together for four years. Still, a 77-50 crushing is a stark contrast from the close contests these two teams have had the past couple seasons. 1-9 shooting and two total points from your leading scorer (Daman Starring) isn’t going to do it. Mike Best was one of the only standout players, with 11 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes of play.

“Even though we didn’t compete well, I thought Mike Best busted his tail out there tonight.

“Hopefully, this performance will give us the impetus to play hard at Riverside Saturday night.” – Coach Turner

  • Baseball:A bit of a rocky start, dropping their first true weekend series to Washington, two games to one.
    • Friday: Huskies ace Aaron West and a pair of relievers completely shut down UCI, wasting good efforts from Matt Whitehouse and Kyle Hooper,who had four more scoreless innings pitched.
    • Saturday: Finally an offensive outburst, with UCI needing every single one of the eight runs they scored to beat UW 8-7.
    • Sunday: UCI strands 10 runners, including the bases loaded twice, losing 4-3 in a game they should have won. Interesting to see Gillespie start all freshmen in spots 5-9 in the lineup – a sample of the future. DH Connor Spencer and OF Ryan Cooper are impressing thus far.

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Folker turns on beast mode, Davis II breaks block record (again)

Adam Folker won't back down. (Courtesy of UCI Athletics)

Down goes Northridge! Down goes Northridge! Down goes Northridge!

Ok, so yesterday wasn’t exactly a battle between heavyweights, but in terms of entertainment value and offenses duking it out against hapless defenses, it was a game to remember. If you haven’t heard already, UCI basketball took down CSUN 94-85 in an OT affair last night at the Bren. Thankfully, CSUN’s Stephen Maxwell had a regulation buzzer beater tip-in attempt that just missed, saving us from a post of disappointment and heartbreak.

Let’s break down the Anteaters who made the difference.

  • Before fouling out late in the second half, Chris McNealy had a career-high 21 points in an impressive offensive display. His 4-5 shooting from three was a big part of UCI staying in the game despite their many first half turnovers. To some, McNealy’s season has been a disappointment after the hype he received from the likes of Mark Roberts. However, his 9.4 PPG this season is nothing to be ashamed of from a sophomore. Sure, he is an inconsistent presence on offense, and his shot seems to have a weird spin to it that causes the ball to rattle in and out. But I believe McNealy may have a similar career trajectory as Patrick Sanders.

Sanders’ PPG at UCI by season: 1.7, 8.6, 11.9, 15.1.

McNealy’s numbers to date: 5.0, 9.4, ??, ??.

  • Will Davis II was an absolute defensive beast down the stretch and in OT, racking up vicious block after vicious block. The end result was another UCI single-game record for blocks: eight. When you consider the number of big guys UCI has had over the years, this number is truly staggering. And it isn’t just leaping ability either. Zack Atkinson had plenty of that, and never came close to the seven and eight blocks that Davis II is picking up in D-I play. Will the Thrill has a nose for the defensive block that is hard to teach; it should be a valuable and entertaining asset to have at the Bren for three more years.

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What to Expect: Cal State Northridge 2.25.12

UC Irvine (10-17, 5-8) vs. Cal State Northridge (7-19, 3-11) at 7:33 p.m. in Irvine, CA

The last home game of the year is already upon us with tonight’s game against the Matadors, televised on Prime Ticket. Usually “Senior Night” in honor of all the seniors, tonight’s game is instead dubbed “Fan Appreciation Day” because there are no seniors on this year’s team. $5 tickets, free popcorn and t-shirts for the students should ensure a pretty decent sized crowd.

Tonight’s game is very important not just to make a good impression on TV. It is also a pivotal game for the Big West standings. Let’s take a look at how things stand after the jump.

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