Rocking new hairdos to symbolize their clean slate going into Big West play, UCI came up big with a 71-62 win over Cal State Northridge tonight.

Lights out shooting in the first half (6-10 from 3-point land to start the game) and a very effective zone-heavy defense built the lead for the Anteaters, and then a commendable 7-0 run when CSUN cut a 22-point lead down to three with under seven minutes to play sealed the deal for UCI.

Player of the game: Derick Flowers, with by far the best game of his collegiate career. A career-high 21 points, 6-12 from the field, 4-5 from long distance, 5-6 from the charity stripe and three rebounds and three assists while only turning the ball over twice.

It is clear that UCI’s own Agent 0 has drastically improved his outside shot. Last year Flowers went 0-12 from 3-point land. This year, he is up to about 38 percent on the year, with a much more confident demeanor.

Most impressive development of the night: UCI withstanding CSUN’s run in the second half, holding firm when the lead was down to three and the momentum seemingly wearing Matador colors.  Adam Folker continued to play solid ball, putting up 10 points and nine rebounds on the night. Chris McNealy stepped up in a big way after not scoring all night. Despite his shooting touch being off this year, it’s notable how Chris continues to contribute in other ways. Today he had six assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block while making his free throws when the game was on the line.

Quotes from coach Russell Turner after the game, sounding positively giddy:

“I’m just really excited with the way we competed, the fact that we came in here… for what we knew was going to be a tough challenge. I’m just really happy right now with the way we competed.”

Regarding Flowers:

“I don’t even know what to say about his performance… he was clutch. We don’t win without his performance. He was outstanding today.”

Other key factors contributing to the win:

“We made our free throws, that was huge. We had a bunch of one and ones, and I believe we made them all. Important we closed this game out. Important we had such a big lead too.”

Turner seems keen on driving this point home, maybe to combat what seems like a poor record thus far (4-9 overall, 1-0 Big West).

“We’re making progress, I’m convinced of that.”

Clearly a huge win to start the conference schedule. Although Turner also remarked that he felt like CSUN was a team that UCI should beat, it still represents the first road win of the season, and a nice confidence booster going into the showdown against Long Beach State.