Both the UCLA Bruins and the UC Irvine Anteaters have been on the road playing in tournaments during this Thanksgiving week. UCLA is 4-1 overall, with their only loss coming from Creighton in the Hall of Fame Classic. The Anteaters have had a tougher start to the season, recently losing three in a row to Kansas State, Arizona State, and Rider University in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. They finally won their last game of the invitational against Northern Arizona University on Friday.
Last year, Irvine settled for a trip to the NIT after winning the Big West Conference and losing to UC Davis in the Big West tournament, but this year’s tournament is wide open.
Key losses for the Anteaters include Luke Nelson, who averaged double digits in scoring in his tenure at UCI, and fellow guard Jaron Martin, who earned All-Big West First-Team accolades last year and averaged 14.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. Additionally, Ioannis Dimakopoulos, a 7-2 center, ranked third on the team with 10.9 points per game. He could knock down long passes and also defend in the paint.
Anteaters who will contribute this year include Jonathan Galloway, a 6-10 junior, who is the reigning Big West Best Defensive Player of the Year after tallying 7.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Newcomers include Utah State transfer Elston Jones. Jones sat out last year, and will provide depth on offense.
With Nelson and Martin gone, the backcourt has some rebuilding to do. Eyassu Worku averaged 7.2 points and 1.9 assists per game as a freshman last year, so it will be up to him and other returners like Tommy Rutherford, Max Hazzard and Brandon Smith to make up for their missing shooters. UCI could just as easily be in for a great year as a disappointing one depending on how the returners step in and fill the voids left by the graduates.
This should be an easy win for the Bruins as the Anteaters have clearly struggled against lesser opponents.