DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 8, 5:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Honda Center (17,608) -- Anaheim, California. Television: None. Home Record: UCI 8-6, Fullerton 13-1. Away Record: UCI 3-11, Fullerton 7-6. Neutral Record: UCI 0-2, Fullerton 1-1. Conference Record: UCI 6-10, Fullerton 12-4. Series Record: Fullerton leads, 52-42.
GAME NOTES: UC Irvine enters the tournament as the No. 7 seed, having gone 11-19 overall and 6-10 in Big West play during the regular season. The Anteaters lost back- to-back contests to close out the year, and most recently dropped a 72-69 decision to UC Riverside last Saturday.
As for Cal State Fullerton, the Titans earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament following a 77-74 verdict over Long Beach State last weekend. The win improved the Titans to 21-8 overall and 12-4 in league action, going 8-0 against conference foes at home for the first time since the 1982-83 campaign in the process.
Cal State Fullerton leads, 52-42, in terms of the all-time series between the two programs.
The Anteaters battled back from a 16-point deficit in the second half, but ultimately succumbed to UC Riverside in overtime. Travis Souza drained a three-pointer with 4.4 seconds left to send the contest into the extra session, but the Highlanders scored the first seven points of the additional period and then held off a late UCI surge to escape with a three-point triumph. The Anteaters shot just 37.5 percent from the floor during the contests, with struggles from both long range (8-for-29) and at the foul line (13-of-22). UCI committed a game-high 14 turnovers as well during the meeting, but did own the battle of the boards by a 48-38 margin. Chris McNealy scored 19 points to lead the way for UCI, while Derick Flowers and Adam Folker tallied 15 and 10 points, respectively. Despite an underwhelming 41.5 percent shooting clip as a team, the Anteaters average a respectable 68.6 points per game this season. However, at the other end of the court, UCI has allowed opponents to net 72.7 ppg on a 41.7 percent clip that includes a 38.0 percent conversion rate from three-point land. The Anteaters have also struggled with ball control as well this year, averaging 15.2 turnovers per contest and trailing on the glass to the tune of 38.1 - 37.8. Daman Starring currently leads the way for the Anteaters thanks to an 11.5 ppg mark, with Michael Wilder following closely behind with an 11.4 ppg tally.
The Titans got a game-high 27 points from D.J. Seeley in the three-point verdict over LBSU, a contest during which the Titans shot only 39.3 percent from the floor. The Titans did, however, add 20-of-25 at the foul line during the meeting, and hit a bit of a rhythm from beyond the arc (9-for-21). The Titans won the battle of the boards by a 41-37 margin as well, and controlled the contest down-low with a 28-20 besting of LBSU in the paint. Isiah Umipig scored 16 points to help pace Fullerton in the victory, while Kwame Vaughn chipped in 10 points. Omondi Amoke and Orane Chin controlled the boards for the Titans, pulling down 13 and 10 rebounds, respectively. The Titans average a whopping 78.6 ppg up to this point, and are shooting at an impressive 48.2 percent clip as a team that includes a 41.2 percent mark from three-point range. Oddly, the club has struggled at the foul line (69.3 percent), but does boast four players with a double-digit scoring average. Seeley leads the way with 17.0 ppg, followed by Vaughn and his 15.6 ppg mark. Umipig has been responsible for a solid 13.9 ppg, while Amoke checks in at 13.9 points and a team-leading 8.8 rebounds per contest.
Naturally, go with the Titans in this one. The Anteaters do not match up particularly well with CSF at either end of the court, but could keep the contest closer than it has a right to be with better protection of the basketball.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cal State Fullerton 83, UC Irvine 70