Coming off the expected confidence-questioning loss to Arizona and expected moral-boosting win over DIII Pomona-Pitzer, our Anteaters (5-5) resume their growing process against the Gaels of Saint Mary’s (6-1). If UCI wants to stand a chance up in Moraga today, they’re going to have to take advantage of their speed advantage and also make some shots from outside.
History: UCI is 5-5 all-time against Saint Mary’s, with a close loss two years ago and a not-so-close affair last year. Luke Nelson led the Anteaters with 19 points in 2014, and followed that up with 12 last year. Unfortunately, there is no news suggesting that Nelson will be ready to go for a third tilt at McKeon Pavilion.
Rare Letdown for Team Australia: Saint Mary’s highly fruitful pipeline of players from Australia (7 of the team’s 15 players are Aussies) has coincided with a dominant home record. However, the ranked Gaels came crashing down against UT Arlington in a surprisingly lopsided 65-51 defeat on Thursday. Ever since a 2014 loss at the hands of the Mavericks, I’ve thought that UT Arlington was a school that bore many similarities with UCI. In terms of its limited program history, recent successes, and even stature as a public school in a well-regarded system, there’s a lot in common. UTA has a more experienced roster than UCI this year, but if they can win by 14 at Saint Mary’s, perhaps UCI can squeak out a win of the buzzer beater-variety.
UTA forced Saint Mary’s, who before Thursday was the third-best shooting team in the country, into a pedestrian 31.4 percent night. They also forced a ton of turnovers, flummoxing coach Randy Bennett. I’m sure Coach Turner and the staff are game planning for UCI’s speedy guards to try and replicate UTA’s success on these fronts.
Battle of the Bigs: Saint Mary’s boasts a stronger front court than any team UCI will face in the Big West. 6’11 center Jock Landale is in the midst of a breakout season, averaging 18.9 points a game. 6’10 sophomore Evan Fitzner has been quiet this season but can shoot the three and last year was named to the All-WCC Freshman team. I’m betting that he and fellow San Diego native Tommy Rutherford have faced off in the past. Meanwhile, 6’6 forward Calvin Hermanson “enjoyed viral social media notoriety” for registering his first career block on Mamadou. Talk about a liberal use of the phrase “media notoriety” — no video of Mr. Hermanson’s on YouTube registers more than a couple thousand views.
Upset Suburb: Today likely represents Irvine’s last chance this season to register an upset over a ranked opponent, something they have not done since beating #13 Stanford in 2005. Vegas has UCI as 18.5 point underdogs, so it’s unlikely, but never say never (UTA had never beaten a ranked opponent in their program history until Thursday). Rip ‘Em.