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UC Irvine to provide stern early test for No. 25 CU Buffs basketball

Anteaters went 31-6 with NCAA tourney win last year

Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer
Tad Boyle and the Buffs welcome UC Irvine to the CU Events Center on Monday.

The Colorado men’s basketball team has impressed in a short sample size at the outset of what is expected to be an NCAA Tournament-caliber season.

In that sample size of two games, however, the Buffaloes have yet to put together a full 40-minute performance. CU head coach Tad Boyle is adamant that has to happen Monday night. Just 48 hours after topping San Diego in the home opener to move to 2-0, the Buffs welcome UC Irvine to the CU Events Center for a showdown Boyle believes will give his 25th-ranked club a stern early test.

The Anteaters went 31-6 last season, won the Big West Conference tournament, and defeated Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before getting eliminated by Oregon.

“I’m telling you what, the game Monday night is going to be a battle extraordinaire,” Boyle said. “We are playing a well-coached, well-disciplined, tough team that last year won 31 games, won an NCAA Tournament game. They’ve got three starters back from that team. One of their best players comes off the bench. He doesn’t even start. We’ve got our hands full on Monday night. And our fans need to understand that and our players, I promise you our players will.”

While UC Irvine doesn’t return the entire cast from last year’s memorable season — leading scorer Max Hazzard will be seen by the Buffs later this season, as he moved to Arizona as a graduate transfer — the Anteaters nonetheless are closer to reloading this season than rebuilding.

Irvine guard Evan Leonard averaged 11.3 points last year and is averaging 13 points with a perfect 10-for-10 mark on free throws so far this year. Collin Welp averaged 8.6 points last year but has increased that to 12.0 points per game through four games this season. And while guard Eyassu Worku averaged just seven points in a reserve role last year, he has emerged as a scoring force this year who brings a 15-point scoring average and a .524 field goal percentage to Boulder.

The Buffs are 2-0 but still have been somewhat streaky within their games. CU built a 17-point lead in the opening win against Arizona State, but still had to come on strong down the stretch after the Sun Devils tied things up with about 10 minutes remaining.

In the win against San Diego, CU struggled in the first half, committing six turnovers within the first nine minutes and finishing the opening frame with a .344 shooting percentage. But CU dominated the second half, outscoring the Toreros 41-26 while shooting 12-for-24 overall and 6-for-11 on 3-pointers.

“We had better be ready to battle on Monday night because it is going to be a knockdown, drag-out, I promise you,” Boyle said. “And we got to be ready to go. We have to play two halves of basketball. Which we haven’t done against Arizona State in Shanghai. Didn’t do it tonight. We’ve got to put two halves together and play with great toughness on Monday. Because it’s going to be a battle.”

UC Irvine Anteaters at No. 25 CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Monday, 7 p.m., CU Events Center

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks; Radio — 850 AM.

RECORDS: UC Irvine 3-1; Colorado 2-0.

COACHES: UC Irvine — Russell Turner, 10th season (191-129 overall and at UC Irvine); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (191-123, 247-189 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: UC Irvine — G Eyassu Worku, Sr., 15.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.5 apg; F Collin Welp, So., 12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg; C Brad Greene, Jr., 10.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg. Colorado — G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 15.0 ppg, 5-for-8 3-pointers; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 14.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg; G McKinley Wright, Jr., 14.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.0 apg.

WHAT TO WATCH: Irvine has outrebounded its four opponents by an average of 13.5 boards per game. CU has outrebounded its two foes by an average of 9.5. The bigger Buffs need to win the battle on the glass.

NOTES: This is the first matchup between the programs since Dec. 17, 2005. The Buffs have won all seven meetings…After posting the second-lowest 3-point in the Boyle era last season (.323) the Buffs are off to a 17-for-40 start (.425) from the arc this year. Schwartz, Lucas Siewert (4-for-7), and Maddox Daniels (3-for-6) have led the 3-point barrage…Despite getting to the free throw line frequently CU has struggled to convert, shooting just .630 (29-for-46)…CU still is trying to curtail its turnovers after committing 18 against ASU and 15 against San Diego…Through two games Bey leads the Buffs’ defense in steals (5) and blocked shots (3)…Dating back to last season, Schwartz has averaged 14.2 points over the past five games…This contest is considered part of the MGM Resorts Main Event. CU will have a six-day break between games before continuing the showcase against Wyoming on Sunday in Las Vegas. The Buffs will then play either TCU or Clemson in Vegas on Nov. 26.