Cal State Fullerton (15-7, 7-3) vs. UC Irvine (9-14, 5-5) at 7:05pm in Fullerton, CA

After a tough loss to a suddenly hot Pacific team, UCI returns to action tonight against our proverbial cross-town rival, Cal State Fullerton.

Earlier this year, the Titans came out like an elephant stampede, building a 30 point lead in the first half before UCI finally warmed up their shooting touch, battling back in the second half. Ultimately, CSF won a 92-84 affair that probably looks closer on paper than it really was.

One main difference between that game and this one is the possible absence of CSF forward Amondi Omoke. The senior Cal transfer suffered a high ankle sprain on Thursday against Cal Poly, and is “uncertain” for tonight’s game according to the Daily Titan. Last time out, Omoke dominated the interior, picking up 23 points and 17 rebounds, a presence that may be limited or sorely missed tonight. Compounding matters is the absence of backup post player Andre Hardy, who has been out since Jan. 18 dealing with a “personal issue” according to the OC Register. The Daily Titan speculates that Missouri transfer John Underwood may get the start tonight, which should be interesting given Underwood’s size, girth, and proclivity to picking up fouls. Also, without Omoke’s presence down low, Will Davis II and Adam Folker may have a favorable match-up down low against Fullerton’s scrubs.

Otherwise, the Titans maintain the same advantage in age and size that helped them win in Irvine. Guard Kwame Vaughn just put up a crooked 37 against UC Santa Barbara, while fellow backcourt mate DJ Seeley scored 28 points on 9-11 shooting against Cal Poly. With the Titans picking up convincing wins against both upper-tier Big West opponents, UCI clearly will have its hands full tonight. CSF has gone 4-1 since their previous game against UCI, while the Anteaters have gone 3-2.

Besides trying to avoid getting swept by the Titans, this game is also pretty important for the Anteaters in terms of the Big West standings, with a season that is rapidly hurling itself toward the finishing line.

The current Big West standings:

W

L

W

L

Long Beach State

10

0

17

6

Cal State Fullerton

7

3

15

7

UC Santa Barbara

7

3

12

8

UC Riverside

5

5

11

12

Pacific

5

5

9

13

UC Irvine

5

5

9

14

Cal Poly

4

6

13

11

Cal State Northridge

2

8

6

15

UC Davis

0

10

1

21

As we see here, UCI is currently in a three-way tie for fourth-place. Finishing fourth or fifth would likely mean a first-round game against either UC Riverside or Pacific, which should be an easier opponent then UC Santa Barbara or Cal State Fullerton. After the first round, the worst remaining seed will most likely take on assumed conference champ Long Beach State, so it may not matter in the end anyway.

Somewhat interesting personal side note that you probably don’t care about… the last time UCI beat the Titans in Fullerton was at the end of the 2008-09 season, when an Eric Wise-led squad defeated the Titans 65-62. I was there, covering my first ever UCI men’s basketball game for the New University. 

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