Anteaters should face tougher road

The UC Irvine men's basketball team will face eight opponents that competed in postseason tournaments last season, including NCAA participants UNLV, Southern Miss and Long Beach State.

The schedule also includes a home game against LSU on Dec. 18, the home opener against Nevada on Nov. 10, and road dates at UCLA (Nov. 13), USC (Dec. 20), Pepperdine (Sept. 24) and Fresno State (Dec. 15).

UCI, with five starters and 10 players back under third-year coach Russell Turner, will also visit UNLV on Nov. 28. It's UCI's first clash with its former Big West Conference rival since 1997.

The Anteaters' home game against new Big West Conference member Hawaii on Jan. 9 will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

Nevada reached the NIT quarterfinals last season.

Weber State, which plays host to UCI on Dec. 8, played in the postseason tournament last season, as did Big West foes UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton.

The 'Eaters play host to Vanguard in an exhibition game Nov. 3.

UCI, which was 12-20 last season, including a 6-20 conference mark, will open conference play Dec. 29 at home against UC Davis.

The Homecoming game is scheduled Jan. 12 against Cal State Northridge.

UCI is on the road for a BracketBusters game Feb. 23 and the Big West Conference Tournament is at the Honda Center in Anaheim March 14-16.

The home schedule also includes dates with NAIA representative San Diego Christian (Dec. 4), and United States Collegiate Athletic Assn. member Pacifica (Nov. 15). Pacifica is in Moreno Valley.

"We do have a very difficult schedule and just as we did last year, we scheduled up," Turner said in a statement. "I'm excited with the Nevada home game early. That's a great opportunity for our campus to see this young group against a high-level opponent. We have an SEC opponent coming in here in LSU and we have some other fine teams that we are playing.

"There are games on the road against the likes of UCLA, USC and UNLV," Turner said. "It's tough. It's a road-heavy schedule and it's a schedule that's probably going to rank, in terms of strength-of-schedule, as one of the [most difficult] we've ever had. What I hope we can accomplish from that is that we can measure ourselves against good teams and be ready at the start of Big West play. I believe our team can compete with anybody in the Big West and the success we have is going to be determined in how much improvement we can make between now and the last week of December when league play starts."

Mike Wilder, a senior this season, was named second-team All-Big West as a junior, when he averaged a team-leading 11.5 points and knocked down 78 three-pointers. He ranks sixth at UCI with 152 career threes.

Senior Daman Starring averaged 11.4 points in 2011-12. He led the team with 35 steals and was second with 100 assists.

Senior center Adam Folker led the Big West in field-goal percentage at .569 in league games and he received the confernce's Hustle Award last season. Folker led the 'Eaters in rebounding at 6.7 per game and shot 56.3% from the field.

Senior point guard Derick Flowers ranked first in the conference in assists at 4.13 per league game. He led the team with 103 assists on the season.

Junior guard Chris McNealy was named to the Big West All-Tournament team after averaging 17.5 points in UCI's two tourney games. He scored a career-high 24 points in the 65-59, quarterfinal upset of No. 2-seeded Cal State Fullerton.

Will Davis set the UCI single-game record as a freshman last season with eight blocked shots in the Feb. 25 win over Cal State Northridge. He had seven rejections in the Jan. 24 victory over Seattle University and established a new UCI single-season record with 55 blocks.

Redshirt freshman guard Aaron Wright averaged 6.9 points in nine games last season before sustaining a season-ending knee injury that required surgery.

Sophomore center Mike Best averaged 4.0 points, sophomore guard Collin Woods averaged 3.3 points and sophomore guard Travis Souza averaged 2.3 points.

Two players who were part of the UCI program last season but did not play are 6-10 redshirt sophomore center John Ryan, who sat out after transferring from Fresno State, and 6-5 forward Reed McConnell, who is a redshirt freshman this season.

Freshmen include Ege Mala, a 6-7 forward from Turkey, Conor Clifford, a 7-0 center who played locally at Ocean View High, and Alex Young, a 6-1 guard from Phoenix, Oregon, and 2011 Oregon 4A Player of the Year.

Also new to the 'Eaters program is 6-3 sophomore guard Dominique Dunning, who must sit out this season after transferring from New Mexico. He was a first team all-state player at Centennial High in Corona and a finalist for Mr. Basketball in California in 2011.

UCI, which was regarded as one of the nation's youngest teams with no seniors last season, is now one of the more experienced groups in the Big West . Of the 338 schools playing NCAA Division I basketball, only nine teams did not have a senior last season.

UCI led the Big West and ranked No. 22 in the nation in assists at 15.41 per game last season.

"I'm excited to have as many returning players as we have, and not just because we have returnees, but we have guys I believe in," Turner said. "I believe in their character, I believe in their commitment, and I think that was evident with the way we finished our season last year. It was a tough season, being as young as we were and really struggling early to find an identity, but I think we found that.

"We are a deep team now, and that's the thing that excites me the most as there will be an opportunity for competition every day. That's a part of college basketball that is fun when the level of competition every day is high.

"I think our staff has done a good job in finding guys who are the right fit for UC Irvine and for the way we want to play and the way we want to be," Turner added. "I'm fortunate to have this senior class as I think the group of four seniors we have is huge for us, but we do have backups at every spot. There is clear competition at every position for minutes and I think that is something everyone should embrace and how we bring it all together."

— From staff reports

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