Men's Basketball Preview: UC Irvine vs. Hawaii

UC Irvine Pregame

Vs. Hawaii

Saturday, 7 p.m. at Bren Events Center

The Anteaters have won six in a row, all in 2014, and enter the Big West Conference game 13-7, 4-0 in conference, alone in first place in the nine-team men's basketball conference.

UCI, coached by Russell Turner, has won its four Big West games by an average of 11.5 points, but is expected to be tested by the Rainbow Warriors (13-5, 2-2).

UCI is 21-4 in its last 25 games at the Bren Center and is off to its best start in conference play since it opened 8-0 in 2006.

Defense has been vital for the 'Eaters lately. They have held the last six opponents to a combined field-goal percentage of .332 and they are 12-0 when the opposition shoots less than 40% from the field. The 'Eaters also lead the Big West in field-goal-percentage defense (38.3%).

Mamadou Ndiaye, a 7-foot-6 freshman who had a double-double in Thursday's win over Cal State Northridge, had seven blocked shots to bring his season total to 66, which ranks No. 6 in the nation and leads the conference. Ndiaye has also converted his last 20 field-goal attempts and is closing in on the record of 26 straight by Torian Oglesby of Bowling Green, set in the 2011-12 season. Ndiaye is shooting 78.9% from the field (71 for 90).

UCI is ranked No. 16 in the mid-major top-25 poll, four spots ahead of conference rival UC Santa Barbara, which will play host to the Anteaters on Thursday.

Senior Chris McNealy leads UCI in scoring (12.3 per game), followed by freshman Luke Nelson (11.4), junior Will Davis (11.4), sophomore Alex Young (9.4) and Ndiaye (8.9) .

Davis leads the team with 7.1 rebounds per game, while Young's 4.6 assists per contest top the squad.

Hawaii, led by fourth-year coach Gib Arnold, leads the conference in scoring (82.3 per game) and field-goal-shooting percentage (.458), as well as rebounding margin (plus 5.7 per contest) and steals (7.2 per game).

Christian Standhardinger, a 6-8 senior, is second in the Big West in scoring (18.4 per game) and his 7.7 rebounding average ranks fourth among conference players. He was a first-team all-conference honoree last season.

Junior guard Garrett Nevels and sophomore forward Isaac Fotu are averaging 14.1 points per game for Hawaii.

It's homecoming for UCI and approximately 40 former players and coaches are expected to be among the alumni in attendance.

— Barry Faulkner

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