Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sears BracketBuster Game Preview - EWU Eagles @ UC Irvine Anteaters

Eagles huddle up late in the second as the overtook
Norhern Colorado for the win on Wednesday
photo from
Tonight the Eastern Washington Eagles (6-7 Big Sky, 12-14) will take on the University of California - Irvine Anteaters (5-6 Big West, 9-17) in a non-conference showdown as part of the Sears BracketBuster series.  Tip off is at 7pm pst.

The Eagles are embroiled in a closely contested race for the Big Sky Conference tourney and depending on how they do in the final 3 conference games, could end up as high as 3rd or as low as 8th in the conference with only the top 6 teams advancing into the tournament.  The Anteaters will advance to post season play no matter how they finish because the Big West Conference tournament invites all conference schools.  However their seeding could also be dramatically affected by how they finish in the final 3 games of their conference schedule as they are currently in 7th place and are just 1 game out of 4th place.

Both teams need a win tonight, for Eastern its about maintaining momentum after coming back from a 17 point second half deficit on Wednesday night to beat conference rival the UNC Bears.  The Anteaters are desperate to halt a 4 game losing streak in which they played 4 of the top five teams in the Big West standings.

Check out the keys to the game after the jump:

The key for Eastern Washington will be starting out competitively in the first half of the game.  Over the last 9 games the Eagles have trailed at the half by an average of 5.8 points including 2 games in which they had the lead (11 pts vs Montana State, 1 pt vs Northern Colorado on Jan 14).  Over that stretch the Eagles have gone 3-6 in their 3 wins they have trailed at the half by an average of 2 points and in 6 losses they trailed by an average of 7.7 points.

Staying out of foul trouble and rebounding could be decisive factors tonight as well.  Eastern Washington has a tendency to get into foul trouble early and often, especially Senior Forward Laron Griffin (#15) who is the teams 2nd leading rebounder (167).  Griffin has fouled out ten times in 26 games this year and has 4 fouls in ten other games.  UC Irvine is 50th in the nation in rebounds averaging 37.2 per game so the Eagles will need Laron to play a lot to stay competitive on the glass.  Senior Forward Cliff Ederaine (#42) is the teams leading rebounder (206) and has averaged a double-double over the past 4 games with 10.25 pts and 10 rebounds a contest.

On Wednesday the Eagles leading scorer, Junior Forward Collin Chiverton (#24), got things going offensively with 19 points, including 14 in the second half, after a rough three game stretch.  The Eagles will need Chiverton to provide his usual offensive fireworks against an Anteaters squad that ranks 54th in the country in 3 points made per game (7.7).  UC Irvine will also put a ton of pressure on the Eagles Guards as they are 28th in the nation in assists averaging 15.5 per game.  That means that Junior Guard Jeffrey Forbes (#22) and Senior Guard Cliff Colimon (#11) will need to be disruptive in the passing lanes.

Look for Freshman Guard Parker Kelly (#10) to continue his run of big time contributions from the bench.  Over the last five games Kelly has averaged 19.6 minutes per game scoring 7.4 points on 2.2 three pointers, including late game heroics in wins against Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado.  Kevin Winford (#23) could also see significant minutes as he turned in a very solid 8 minutes of play on Wednesday night going 2-2 from the field for 5 points and was praised afterwards by Coach Hayford who pointed out his solid play in his post game press-conference.

Daman Starring is the leading scorer
for the Anteaters
photo from
For the Anteaters the key will be slowing down an Eastern attack that is third in the nation in 3 pointers per game with 9.3 and is 82nd in the nation in scoring per game (72.3).  UC Irvine comes into this game on a 4 game losing streak during which they have given up 83.5 points a game and scored 73.5.  Junior Guard Daman Starring (#22) leads the team in scoring (12.0), steals (1.2) and 3pt percentage (39.3%).

Junior Guard Michael Wilder (#23), who also plays some Forward for the Anteaters, is second on the team in scoring (11.5), third in rebounds (5.0) and 4th in assists (2.5).  Sophomore Guard Chris McNealy (#5) is scoring 8.7 points and collecting 4.9 rebounds with 3.0 assists per contest.  Freshman Forward - Center Will Davis II (#3) is fourth in scoring (8.5) second in rebounds (5.4) and first in blocks (1.5).  Junior Forward Adam Folker (#20) leads the team in rebounding with 6.2 per game and also scores 7.2 points a contest.

Both teams will return to conference play next week.  Eastern Washington travels to Pocatello, ID to take on the Idaho State Bengals (7-6 Big Sky, 9-16) on Thursday.  UC Irvine hosts the California State - Northridge Matadors (3-10 Big West, 7-17) on Saturday night.

Last meeting: EWU won 78-64 in Cheney on November 30th, 2008