Saturday’s 72-65 win over Pacific may not register as a signature win or big resume booster when all is said and done, but in a few years we may look back and mark this win as the moment that we realized that we had a special group in Irvine.
Ioannis was the MVP of the night, using an array of post moves and shots en route to a career-high 19 points on 9-13 shooting. But I came away even more impressed with how advanced our freshman already looked, in just their fourth collegiate game.
Tommy Rutherford looks like he will be a fan favorite at the Bren for years to come. The guy sets screens with authority and does all the little things right. When Turner calls his name, Rutherford does not meander, but rather hustles to wherever he is called to be. His text-book free throw shooting suggests that he’ll eventually be able to add a mid-range game to his repertoire.
Max Hazzard made the right decision redshirting last year, as he seems to be the most consistent freshman guard. After shaking off the rust from his year off, the grandson of Walt has shot 11-17 from the field, including a stellar 5-10 from three. Both Hazzard and Eyassu Worku show excellent speed, the likes of which we have not seen in Irvine for quite some time.
Brandon Smith ended last year on a whimper but he deserves credit this year for bringing a defensive wing presence, a match-up that has been a weakness since the departure of Chris McNealy. To make a bolder claim, I believe Smith may eventually become a Patrick Sanders-type star by the time all is said and done.
The biggest surprise from the UOP game was obviously the breakout of walk-on sophomore Spencer Rivers, someone who most fans assumed would only be providing bench antics and dance moves in the pre-game huddle this year. Well, Rivers not only played meaningful minutes against a DI opponent, but he did it with immediate swagger. I remember Turner saying in an interview last year that Rivers had a good jump shot, but on Saturday Rivers looked like a bona fide sharp shooter. If Rivers can provide even an occasional scoring spark reminiscent of his performance against the Tigers, this UCI squad will be even deeper than we hoped.
Happy Thanksgiving, readers!