GAME NOTES: A pair of .500 teams are set for a Saturday afternoon non- conference showdown, as the Denver Pioneers host the UC Irvine Anteaters at Magness Arena.
UC Irvine been trending in the wrong direction in recent weeks, losing three of its last four to slip to 6-6 on the season. The Anteaters' latest bout came at Oregon on Tuesday night, where they were thoroughly handled en route to a 91-63 setback.
On the other hand, Denver has played very well of late, winning five of its last six after a disappointing 0-4 start. The Pioneers beat up on Belmont on Tuesday night, 90-62, for their third straight triumph, improving to 3-1 at Magness Arena in the process.
The Anteaters and the Pioneers will meet for the first-ever time in this matchup.
The Anteaters never had a chance in their latest game, as they fell behind to Oregon by 19 at the half and didn't sniff the lead for the rest of the game. They shot a modest 40.7 percent from the field, but their biggest shortcomings came at the foul line, where they shot just 50 percent (13-of-26), and in the turnover battle, coughing the ball up 19 times. Will Davis II was stellar in spite of the setback, netting 20 points on 8-of-12 from the field. Chris McNealy and Luke Nelson poured in 14 and 13 points, respectively, on a combined 5-of-13 from 3-point range.
On the season, UCI has boasted a prominent scoring attack, shooting 48.1 percent from the field (including 38.1 percent from 3-point range) on its way to 78.5 points per game, which is 5.5 more than it allows on the other end of the floor. Davis II and McNealy share the team-lead in scoring with 12.3 points per game, with Davis II also adding 7.2 rebounds per contest. Nelson (11.8 ppg) has made 23-of-58 from beyond the arc (.397), while Alex Young (10.0 ppg) has 52 assists paired with 25 turnovers.
The Pioneers were on fire on Tuesday night, shooting a lofty 55.6 percent from the field, which included a 12-of-23 showing from 3-point range, en route to their highest-scoring output of the season. Chris Udofia was nearly flawless in the 28-point win, scoring 21 points on 7-of-8 from the field to go with six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Brett Olson also stuffed the stat sheet, tallying 19 points, seven assists, four boards and three steals. Jalen Love chipped in 13 points, and Marcus Byrd shot 3-of-5 from 3-point range off the bench on his way to 11 points.
Denver has displayed some rather inconsistent play this season, as it sits at 5-5 overall despite living in the red in terms of its scoring (-0.8) and rebounding (-5.9) margins. It gets out-shot from the floor by its opponents, 48.8 percent to 44.1 percent, but one thing it has going for it is a strong showing in the takeaway battle with a +2.5 turnover margin. Olson (15.2 ppg) is the top scoring threat, while Udofia is one the mid-major's most well- rounded forwards with 13.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.9 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. Love (9.5 ppg) narrowly missed the double-digit scorer's club.
In a showdown between two up-and-down teams, the edge in this one has to go to Denver, which not only holds the homecourt advantage, but has been playing its best basketball of the year in recent weeks.
Game Date and Time