The semifinalists in the 2K Sports Classic have been known for months now, with UConn and Boston College meeting in one semifinal and Washington taking on Indiana in the other. But this is still a “tournament,” and on Thursday the UC Irvine Anteaters (and earlier Thursday the Toledo Rockets) displayed why that word should be used loosely when describing some events.
Will Davis II tallied 22 points and seven rebounds and 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye added 18 points, nine blocks (a Big West single-game record) and eight rebounds as the Anteaters, the preseason favorites to win the Big West, soundly defeated Washington 86-72. But even with the Huskies’ depleted front court, UC Irvine took full control of the action in the second half. For the game Russell Turner’s team shot 59.6% from the field, winning by a comfortable margin despite shooting just 50% from the foul line (16-for-32).
C.J. Wilcox scored 22 points and freshman Nigel Williams-Goss added 13 to lead the way for Washington, but the bigger concern for the Huskies in the aftermath of Thursday’s defeat is their lack of options in the paint. Perris Blackwell made his return to the lineup after missing the opener with a concussion, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds, and Washington’s lack of interior depth means that more will be needed from Shawn Kemp Jr. and Gilles Dierickx. And on Thursday night they struggled mightily with the veteran Davis and his tall sidekick.
But despite those issues (and the loss) it’s Washington who is headed to New York City next week. Sure that was known well before this game was played, but is this really a “tournament” if the advancing teams are pre-determined? The reasons for such setups are well-known by now, with ticket sales and larger alumni bases being of high priority. But can anyone who watched UC Irvine take care of business say that they don’t deserve to advance?
With their fate already known, the more important thing for Irvine to do is look at the areas in which they need to improve with an eye towards earning the Big West’s automatic bid. The biggest issue: free throw shooting. In three games the Anteaters have shot 55-for-101 from the charity stripe, which works out to about 54.5%.
With their big men and guards such as Luke Nelson (11 points, six assists) and Alex Young (eight points, six assists) the Anteaters have more than enough talent to win the Big West, but the “little things” like foul shooting can prove costly especially in a one-and-done scenario. So regardless of where UC Irvine plays next week, that’s an issue that will need to be addressed.
It’s just too bad that they won’t be able to work on it at Madison Square Garden.