Russell Turner, Will Davis II

UC Irvine, head coach Russell Turner agree to five-year extension

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After making their first Big West tournament final appearance since 2008 this past spring, the UC Irvine Anteaters enter the 2013-14 season as the preseason favorite to win the conference and make their first NCAA tournament appearance as a Division I member. Armed with key returnees such as forward Will Davis II and guard Alex Young and a talented crop of newcomers, head coach Russell Turner has the pieces needed to make good on the preseason attention.

On Thursday the school signed Turner to a five-year contract extension through the 2017-18 season.

“I am pleased with the direction of our men’s basketball program under the leadership of Coach Turner,” Athletic Director Michael Izzi said in the relase. “Russell and his staff have recruited quality student-athletes who are outstanding representatives of the university.

“They have generated a great deal of interest and excitement for our program on campus and in the community.”

In addition to that title game appearance the Anteaters picked up the program’s first postseason tournament victory in nearly three decades, as they beat High Point in the first round of the Tournament. UC Irvine enters the 2013-14 season as arguably the nation’s biggest team, with three players being at least seven feet tall and freshman Mamadou Ndiaye being 7-foot-6.

And in freshman guard Luke Nelson the Anteaters add an experienced guard with international experience, as he averaged 19 points per game for England’s Under-18 team at this summer’s U-18 European Championships. With the amount of talent on campus fans are hopeful that Turner and company can reach the Big Dance.

“I’m incredibly appreciative, along with my family, for the commitment that Mike Izzi, Chancellor Drake and many others have made to our program, staff and team. We’re excited for the start of the season, the program’s future and the possibilities that we can have together.”

UC Irvine opens the regular season at home on Friday night against Fresno State, and with games against Washington, California, Oregon and Arizona State they’ll have some opportunities to boost their regional/national profile before starting Big West play in January.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)