UC Irvine (20-10) at Cal State Fullerton (11-17)
GAME NOTES: The UC Irvine Anteaters can guarantee at least a share of the Big West Conference regular-season title should they take down the Cal State Fullerton Titans tonight on the road at Titan Gym.
UC Irvine currently has a hold on the top spot in the Big West (11-3), leading UC Santa Barbara by a game in the standings with two games to play. The Anteaters have won seven of their last eight contests and are the only team in the Big West with 20 wins (20-10). They will put an end to the regular season on Saturday against UC Davis.
Cal State Fullerton's goals are less ambitious in this contest, as it is playing for positioning in the upcoming conference tournament. The Titans have picked up wins in three of their last four games, but they are just 11-17 overall and 6-8 in league play. They finish the season at Hawaii on Saturday.
A win this weekend would give the Anteaters their second straight season sweep of the Titans, who they routed 72-54 on Jan. 16. Cal State Fullerton may be on the wrong side recently, but it still leads the all-time series (52-46).
Despite shooting just 42.9 percent from the floor, UC Irvine was able to will itself to a 55-48 win over Cal Poly last time out. The Anteaters kept the Mustangs to just 34 percent shooting, including a mere 2-of-14 success from 3- point range. Alex Young scored 12 points and Mamadou Ndiaye tacked on 10.
The Anteaters have made a habit of tightening up at the defensive end. They are allowing only 65.6 ppg on the fifth-lowest opponent field goal percentage in the country (.380). They couple their strong defensive effort with a solid showing on the boards (38.6 rpg) and in their own shooting (.472). Luke Nelson (12.1 ppg) is one of three double-digit scorers on the roster, with Chris McNealy (11.6 ppg) and Will Davis II (10.4 ppg) also getting into the mix. Young (9 ppg, 4.7 apg) can score, but is more valuable as a passer and Ndiaye (8.4 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.1 bpg) leads the league in blocks.
Michael Williams scored 28 points and Alex Harris contributed 22 as Cal State Fullerton won an 84-76 shootout over Long Beach State in its most recent outing. The Titans sank 56.4 percent of their total shots and forced 16 turnovers, making up for a sizable deficit on the boards (45-27).
The Titans are not normally as potent at the offensive end, as they are netting only 68.4 ppg and shooting 43.3 percent from the field, ranking eighth and seventh in the Big West, respectively. Williams (17.9 ppg) and Harris (15.6 ppg) are one of the most explosive scoring backcourt tandems in the country. Williams, who is fourth in the conference in scoring, has picked up his play down the stretch with 20-point efforts in four straight and seven of the last eight games overall. The rest of the roster doesn't give much support in terms of scoring, with Marquis Horne (8.0 ppg) the next best option.
This is the last home game for Cal State Fullerton and its seniors, so the Titans are likely to play with some extra motivation. However, that alone won't keep them from falling to the Anteaters yet again.
GAME NOTES: The UC Irvine Anteaters can guarantee at least a share of the Big
West Conference regular-season title should they take down the Cal State
Fullerton Titans tonight on the road at Titan Gym.Fact Stats
FACTS & STATS: Site: Titan Gym (4,000) -- Fullerton, California.
Television: None. Home Record: UCI 11-4, CSF 8-5. Away Record: UCI 9-6, CSF
3-11. Neutral Record: UCI 0-0, CSF 0-1. Conference Record: UCI 11-3, CSF 6-8.
Series Record: Cal State Fullerton leads, 52-46.Game Date and Time
Thursday, March 6, 10 p.m. (ET)Predicted Outcome
UC Irvine 74, Cal State Fullerton 67