The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (23-11,15-5) qualified for the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) after clinching a share of the regular season Big West Conference title with a senior night victory over Bakersfield, 52-44, on Saturday, March 4. A week later, following a shocking exit in the semifinal round of the Big West Conference championships, falling to Fullerton 83-80, the UC Irvine team will continue their 2023 season with a first round NIT matchup at the University of Oregon (19-14, 12-8) on Wednesday, March 15 at 8 p.m. PST on ESPN2.
The game is a rematch of a Nov. 11 regular season matchup where the ‘Eaters dominated the Ducks in Eugene, pulling off the upset of the year in a convincing 69-56 victory. However, a lot has changed since that matchup.
The Ducks were ranked #21 in the nation with high expectations placed on their team’s performance. Yet, the Ducks finished their season with a subpar 19-14 record, failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament after a loss to UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, 75-56.
The game will be a chance for UC Irvine to prove themselves on a national stage after failing to win the Big West Conference Championship, coming into the postseason tournament with the No. 1 seed. The national spotlight and pressure will be on the Anteaters, having already defeated Oregon earlier this season.
For the ‘Eaters, some impact players to watch out for are the dynamic backcourt duo, junior guards DJ Davis and Dawson Baker, who are both averaging just over 15 points per game. The duo combined for 35 points in the previous matchup against the Ducks, showing they are indeed up to the task of competing against a Power Five conference opponent.
The Ducks are led by senior center N’Faly Dante, who leads the team with 13.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game. Dante finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, the lone bright spot for the Ducks in the earlier season matchup. Redshirt senior guard Jermaine Couisnard and senior guard Will Richardson will also be players worth following for the Ducks, both averaging over 12 points per game. Couisnard did not play in the earlier matchup with the Anteaters due to injury, while Richardson was held to four points on a mere 1-6 shooting performance, going 0-4 from beyond the arc.
The ‘Eaters will definitely have to contain the big man play of Dante and the guard plays of Richardson and Couisnard if they are to advance in the tournament. You can catch the game on ESPN2 on Wednesday, March 15 at 8 p.m.
James Huston is a Sports Co-Editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.