For whatever reason, mediocre Mountain West teams tend to make their rare appearances in Irvine at the beginning of the season. We’ve seen Nevada and Fresno State in recent years, and this time it’s former Big West cohort Utah State. The Aggies are probably the premier non-conference opponent appearing at the Bren Events this season, which is a bit damning with faint praise, but let’s get on with the preview.
History: Utah State leads the all-time series 31-28. The two teams last played in Logan, with Mamadou N’Diaye’s 17-14-4 night leading UCI to a 73-63 win. Alex Young also had a great game, shooting 8-13 from the field. The two teams last played in Irvine on November 17, 2007. Kevin Bland, Chuma Awaji and Brett Lauer led Irvine to a dominating 70-51 win despite Utah State legend Jaycee Carroll’s 21 points.
What to Expect: Both teams are bringing in several new faces, so last year’s game won’t tell us much. USU coach Tim Duryea feels much better about their front court size. Meanwhile, UCI’s front court no longer features our favorite 7’6 center. Look out for senior Jalen Moore, who declared for the NBA draft after last season before deciding to come back for one last romp in the college ranks. The 6’9 “wing” led his team in points and rebounds, but also will jack up threes. UCI did a great job on him last season, holding him to 10 points on 4-16 shooting. Others to note include senior guard Shane Rector, a transfer from Missouri, who seemed to be hot or cold last season, and Juco transfer Alexis Dargenton, a rim protector type.
Freshman Phenoms: USU fans are abuzz over freshman guard Koby McEwen. The Canadian had 19 points in 18 minutes in their exhibition, shooting a perfect 7-7 from the field. UCI counters with their own prized youngster in Eyassu Worku. Should be an interesting match-up.
Photo Opp: They call Moore USU’s “hair apparent.” Can we make sure Irvine’s own Afro Thunder gets a photo with the guy? Hopefully in the handshake line after an Anteater win.
Scout Team: In terms of scouting and preparing for an opponent, it doesn’t get much better than having someone from the other side switching allegiances. UCI’s Elston Jones is sitting out this season as a transfer per NCAA rules, but one would think that the former Utah State role player would have a few things to point out in preparing for his old pals.