Trojans handle UCI

LOS ANGELES — First-year UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russ Turner has openly acknowledged the deficits his team possesses.

All it took to measure the shortcoming that proved most costly for the Anteaters in Saturday's 62-49 nonconference loss to host USC at the Galen Center was a ruler.

The Trojans' starting front-court tandem of junior Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson both checked in at 6-foot-10. UCI's best big man is junior Eric Wise, who is 6-6.

Senior Pavol Losonsky appeared to give the Anteaters a 6-9 buffer against the inside domination that helped USC post a 47-26 rebounding advantage, including a combined 27 boards from Vucevic and Stepheson.

But after producing nine points and three rebounds in the first half, Losonsky picked up his fourth foul with 17:51 left in the game and played just seven minutes after intermission. He wound up with a team-high 13 points and eight rebounds.

UCI was also playing without 6-9 junior Adam Folker (broken hand) and 6-9 freshman Maxime Chupin (still awaiting NCAA eligibility). In addition, 6-9 senior Peter Simek (no points or rebounds in nine minutes) has yet to find a comfort level after returning from a broken wrist suffered in the off-season.

"They killed on the rebounds," said Wise, who looked every bit the part of the battered challenger after producing 12 points and five rebounds in 35 minutes.

Wise emerged from the postgame locker room with some ice on a pulled right groin and a bandage on a small cut at the outside corner of his left eyebrow, about the width of a fingertip. "They just pushed us under [the basket]."

Vucevic, who led the Pac-10 in rebounding last season at 9.4 per contest and is one of 50 players on the preseason watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, had two put-back baskets in the final 10 minutes, including one with 5:48 left that was in the middle of a 7-0 Trojans run after UCI had closed to within 51-45 with 7:07 left.

Vucevic finished with five offensive boards, two fewer than Stepheson, as the duo helped USC, playing its season opener, produce 12 second-chance points, eight more than UCI.

There were plenty of rebounds to be had as both teams shot just better than 34% from the field, including a 20% showing from UCI beyond the three-point line (five of 20).

Yet, while UCI disappointed Turner with some sporadic defensive breakdowns, some sloppiness on offense that rendered nine of its 11 turnovers after halftime, as well as the aforementioned rebounding shortfall, UCI was in the game late.

"I feel like we missed an opportunity to take this game down to the wire," Turner said. "We missed an opportunity on the boards and we had some inexplicable plays on which we allowed penetration against our zone, a packed-in zone.

"I don't think we competed at the level we need to as a small team. We had more urgency with the ball on the board against Illinois [Monday's season-opening loss] than we did today. We're going to be us all year. We don't have great size throughout our roster and we don't have a lot of natural rebounders. We've got to find a way to rebound as a team."

Turner also expressed disappointment over his team's failure to push the tempo, a philosophy he has endorsed since being hired in April.

UCI had five fast-break points.

"We did a good job of not turning the ball over, but I thought we played too safe," Turner said. "I don't feel like we're aggressive enough yet. But we're going to get better. Every game presents different problems and this game presented some problems that we really didn't have the answers for in the second half."

Senior point guard Patrick Rembert had nine points and a team-best three assists, while freshman guard Chris McNealy had four points and four rebounds in his first collegiate start.

UCI used six reserves to USC's two, but the Trojans still won the bench scoring battle, 6-5.

Nonconference

USC 62, UC Irvine 49

UC Irvine – Losonsky 13, Wise 12, Rembert 9, Moore 6, McNealy 4, Strings, 3, Starring 2.

3-pt. goals – Losonsky 1, Wise 1, Moore 1, Rembert 1, Strings 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

USC – Vucevic 19, Stepheson 6, B. Jones 14, M. Jones 13, Simmons 4, Smith 6.

3-pt. goals – B. Jones 3, Smith 2, Vucevic 1, M. Jones 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

Halftime – USC, 30-24.

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