There have been times when the biggest challenge associated with dealing with the UC Irvine big men fell upon airline ticket agents trying to find them all comfortable seats.
The burden, these days, rests more on opposing men's basketball players and coaches on game nights, as Coach Russell Turner's legion of length continues to be potent, productive and, just as impressively, protective, on the court.
John Ryan (6-foot-10), Will Davis (6-8) and Mamadou Ndiaye (7-6) combined to produce eight of the Anteaters' 10 blocked shots in a 91-56 dispatching of NAIA representative San Diego Christian in the final nonconference game of the regular season on Saturday at the Bren Events Center.
The trio, which has emerged as the primary post rotation, with occasional support from 6-10 sophomore Mike Best and 7-2 freshman Ioannis Dimakopoulos, made 16 of 19 combined field-goal attempts to help build a 60-12 advantage on points in the paint against the Hawks.
Davis, a junior who was the Big West Defensive Player of the Year last season and is the UCI career leader in blocks, topped the winners (9-7) with 17 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. He was six for seven from the field and is now shooting 61.7% from the field this season.
Ndiaye, a freshman who was perfect from the field for the second straight game, used four dunks to produce his eight points. He also had four rebounds and two blocks in just 11 minutes. He has made 15 of his last 16 field-goal attempts and is shooting 76.3% this season. Through Friday, he was fourth in the NCAA in blocked shots and now has 55 this season.
Ryan, a junior who scored 12 points, blocked four shots and collected four rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench, continued his eye-opening emergence. He was six for eight from the field against San Diego Christian, after making all six of his field-goal tries in a Thursday home win over Morgan State. He is now shooting 65.4% from the field this season.
"We've got a group of big guys who all do different things well," said Turner, whose team's nine nonconference wins match the 2000-2001 team that went on to finish 25-5. "And what I'm excited about is that those guys look like they are a formidable bunch, the way they are all competing right now."
In addition to their efficiency on offense, Turner said his front-liners are creating a layup-free zone on the defensive end.
"I liked the way [Ryan's] shot-blocking has re-emerged," Turner said. "His defensive mentality has gotten better and I think that's important, because we have really five guys who can be rim protectors. And with the way fouls are being called this year [almost any contact by a defender impeding an offensive player is a foul], it's important to have guys behind people guarding penetration."
Behind the front wall, senior guard Chris McNealy stood out, scoring 12 points to give him 1,007 for his career, and adding five assists in 20 minutes. McNealy becomes the 23rd Anteater to surpass 1,000 career points.
"I'm happy for Chris and I'm happy that he is a co-captain an a leader on this team this year," Turner said. "It's great that he is recognized for scoring, but scoring is maybe the least of things that he's greatest at. He is a just a great basketball player who makes the right decision and makes other guys better on both ends. He's a winning player, and that's the best thing I can say about a guy."
All 14 UCI players in uniform played and 13 scored against the Hawks (3-5) for whom the game was an exhibition and did not count on their record.
The game counted on UCI's record.
UCI, picked to win the Big West in a preseason poll, opens conference play on Thursday against three-time defending champion Long Beach State at 8 p.m.
UC Irvine 91, San Diego Christian 56
SDC – Lambert 12, English 9, Richardson 8, Brandon 11, Dickerson 6, Camacho 10.
3-pt. goals – Lambert 4, English 3, Brandon 2, Richardson 1.
Fouled out – Richardson.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Davis 17, Ndiaye 8, McNealy 12, Young 9, Nelson 8, Ryan 12, Mala 6, Dimakopoulos 5, Dunning 5, McConnell 3, Souza 2, Wright 2, Best 2.
3-pt-. goals – Nelson 2, Mala 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – Dimakopoulos 1.
Halftime – UCI, 31-19.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun