NORTHRIDGE — UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russell Turner may have some serious envy for his counterpart at Cal State Northridge, Bobby Braswell.
When Braswell looks down the bench, he sees replacements capable of the 57 collective points they produced in a 91-83 Big West Conference home victory over the Anteaters on Saturday night.
When Turner surveys his bench, these days, he sees his best two inside players wearing warm-up suits, unable to play due to injuries.
But Turner said after his team's fourth straight loss, including a three-game stretch in which opponents have averaged 93 points per game, that he sees symptoms from his entire roster that are, perhaps, even more troubling.
"We have been a better defensive team this year than we've been in these last three games," Turner said. "My team appears tired, and we've got to get the will to fight and perform back. That's on all of us, especially on me."
For the second straight game, a sluggish start put UCI in a hole, as the Matadors (9-14, 6-4 in conference) bolted to a 31-13 advantage.
UCI (10-14, 3-6) pulled within three late in the first half and within six with 5:05 left in the game. But Northridge, which has won five of its last six Big West games since winning at UCI on Jan. 27, pulled away.
The hosts scored 20 of their 49 first-half points in the paint, including 10 by 6-foot-8 senior Lenny Daniel, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season.
With UCI senior center Pavol Losonsky fouling out in 12 minutes with only four points and one rebound, the absence for a second straight game of junior Eric Wise (strained hamstring), was glaring.
Northridge finished with 36 points in the paint and its ability to penetrate also helped lead to 42 foul shots, 33 of which it converted.
"To give up 91 points, when we had tried to make protecting the paint our focus, coming in, was disappointing," Turner said. "We didn't protect the paint at all. And it wasn't just Daniel [who made seven of his nine field-goal tries]. They had a lot of people get to the rim."
Braswell acknowledged that things were easier for his team without Wise to deal with. Junior Adam Folker, a strong rebounder who sat next to Wise on the bench, both in warm-up suits, has also been out all season with injuries.
"Obviously, their not having Wise out there on the floor was a big difference, " Braswell said.
"They were pretty small, and without Wise, they got even smaller, " Daniel said of UCI, which at times played five guards, or four guards and 6-5 senior walk-on Emil Kim in the post. "I felt like we took advantage in the paint, even though they were double-teaming me. My teammates did a good job of finding me in the post and I finished plays."
The slump for UCI, now in last place, puts them in jeopardy of not earning one of eight berths in the nine-team conference's postseason tournament.
"I've talked all season about playing our best late in the season, and we're having a hard time right now," Turner said. "I'm surprised that we're struggling the way that we are. Hopefully, this will be a time that we can improve, as a result of what we are going through."
Senior Darren Moore had 20 points, four rebounds and four assists to lead UCI, for which senior Patrick Rembert and sophomore Mike Wise each had 14 points.
Sophomore Daman Starring added 12 points for the 'Eaters, who made 29 of 35 free-throw attempts.
UCI was outrebounded, 40-27, and allowed Northridge to shoot 54.2% from the field. It was the second straight game, only the third all season, that an opponent topped the 50% field-goal shooting mark.
Big West Conference
Cal State Northridge 91, UC Irvine 83
UCI – Losonsky 4, Moore 20, Rembert 14, Wilder 14, Starring 12, Strings 8, Simek 7, Flowers 4.
3-pt. goals – Starring 3, Wilder 3, Strings 2, Rembert 1, Moore 1 Fouled out – Losonsky.
Technicals – None.
CSUN – Daniel 22, Mitchell 4, Lyles 8, McGhee 0, Cody 0, McLemore 18, Greene 13, Quinn 12, Lizarraga 6, Eteuati 3, Jiles 3, Hayward-Mayhew 2.
3-pt. goals – McLemore 2, Quinn 2, Lyles 1, Greene 1.
Fouled out – None.