SAN LUIS OBISPO — Without arguably its best player and coming off a lopsided loss that extended its Big West Conference losing streak to two games, the UC Irvine men's basketball team went a long way to maintaining its hopes of a regular-season conference crown Saturday night.
Or perhaps one should say they Anteaters went long distance, as they drilled six of nine first-half three-pointers to turn an 11-4 deficit into a 39-28 intermission advantage on their way to a 64-50 victory at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
The win allowed UCI (14-9, 5-2 in conference) to remain tied for first place with UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State, heading into Thursday's home date with Long Beach State.
Freshman guard Luke Nelson, who made a career-best six three-pointers in Thursday's 80-60 loss at UCSB, hit his first three three-point attempts against the Mustangs to account for his nine first-half points.
UCI sophomore guard Alex Young drained an off-balance three at the buzzer to finish two for three from threedom on his way to 11 first-half points, as the Anteaters continued to try to find a way to overcome the loss of their best inside scorer in the 6-foot-8 junior forward Will Davis.
Davis, who missed his second staight game with a back ailment, is the team's leading rebounder (6.9 per game) and third-leading scorer (11.4). He is expected to be back on Thursday for the 7:30 p.m. tipoff at the Bren Events Center.
UCI made just one three-pointer in the second half, by Nelson, to finish seven for 16 from beyond the arc. UCI shot 48.1% from the field (25 for 52) against a Cal Poly team that came in leading the Big West in scoring defense.
The visitors also managed to prevail inside as well, finishing with a 39-34 rebounding advantage.
Cal Poly, which made eight of 23 three-point attempts, including five for 15 in the second half, shot just 30.4% from the field to drop their second straight conference game and fall to 8-13, 4-4.
Nelson, who had a carer-high 26 points at Santa Barbara, finished with a game-high 15 points, while adding five rebounds and four assists.
Young had 14 points with five assists, three rebounds and two steals and made five of seven field-goal tries.
Sophomore Mike Best, who started in place of Davis, had 10 points and three rebounds.
Junior John Ryan came off the bench to collect six points and five rebounds, while fellow reserve Dominique Dunning had seven points and five boards for the winners.
UCI used a 21-2 run in the first half to reverse the tide that included a vociferous black-out crowd that helped create a sellout of 3,032. The crowd was roaring early, as the hosts turned three UCI turnovers and two three-pointers by Chris Eversley, who returned after missing the last three games with an injury, into an early advantage.
UCI was not all long-range jumpers in the opening half, as it had four layups, two put-backs and a thunderous dunk by 7-foot-6 freshman Mamadou Ndiaye.
Ndiaye had four points three rebounds and three of the Anteaters' five blocked shots.
UCI opened the second half on an 8-1 run to keep the crowd fairly subdued for much of the remaining 20 minutes.
Eversley had 14 points to lead the Mustangs, who had just seven turnovers, four fewer than the Anteaters.
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 64, Cal Poly SLO 50
UCI – Best 10, Ndiaye 4, Nelson 15, Young 14, McNealy 4, Dunning 7, Ryan 6, Souza 3, Wright 1.
3-pt. goals – Nelson 4, Young 2, Souza 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – Team 1.
CPSLO – Eversley 14, Awich 3, Odister 12, Nwaba 7, Johnson 0, Shipley 9, Bennett 4, Love 1.
3-pt. goals – Eversley 3, Shipley 3, Odister 2.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – UCI, 39-28.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun