Hawaii foe, UC Irvine, boasts not only height, but defensive tenacity

Feb. 3—In 14 seasons under coach Russell Turner, the UC Irvine basketball team has been known for its height.

But the Anteaters' success, according to Turner, is due to their depth and defense.

"People talk about our size because it's easy to see and focus on," said Turner, whose Anteaters play host to Hawaii today in the Bren Events Center on the UCI campus. "But our team strength has been on the defensive end for a long time now. We've played a defensive style that's hard to beat."

In recruiting, Turner said, the Anteaters seek players that offer more than offensive skills.

"We're real honest in recruiting that you have to work hard and buy into being a good defender consistently with the way that we do things," he said.

As part of the process, the Anteaters' practices are set to "stress."

"Practices are competitive because our team's deep," Turner said. "Not only do we play a lot of guys, we redshirt a lot of guys. We have a roster that allows us to play at a high level in practice. And that's something we've worked hard to build over time and maintain over time."

The Anteaters still have an imposing front court with 7-foot-1 Ben Leuchten, 6-11 Dean Keeler and 6-10 Carter Welling rotating in the post. "We're still the biggest team in the league, I think, in terms of quality and depth of our centers," Turner said. "Our power forward is a little different in that (6-foot-6) Devin Tillis is not 6-9. But he plays big and he's just an excellent basketball player. We're really good in the interior. I think we're balanced."

The Rainbow Warriors are short-handed in the post because of the loss of 7-foot-1 Mor Seck, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury 11 days ago. Starting center Bernardo da Silva, who averaged 24 minutes in the first 19 games, played 30-plus minutes in each of the ensuing two games without Seck. But da Silva was limited to 24 minutes in Thursday's victory over Cal State Fullerton because of foul trouble. He eventually fouled out for the first time in 10 Big West games. Earlier in the week, da Silva spoke of the balance between aggressive rim protecting and avoiding fouls.

Harry Rouhliadeff and power forward Justin McKoy have been used at the five.

On Thursday, point guard Juan Munoz played only 5 minutes, 39 seconds in the second half after being banged up. Munoz is averaging 13.5 points in the past four games, all as a starter. In the two games as a reserve, point guard JoVon McClanahan is averaging 25 minutes, 56 seconds. UH coach Eran Ganot said McClanahan, even as a reserve, is getting "starter's minutes."

The 'Bows also might have found the answer at the three position with a platoon of Tom Beattie and Ryan Rapp. They combined for five offensive rebounds against Fullerton.

Today, the 'Bows will face one of the league's top playmakers. In the Jan. 11 meeting between the teams, Pierre Crockrell II scored 16 points and did not commit a turnover in leading the Anteaters to a 60-50 victory. It was a particularly meaningful night for Crockrell, whose mother was among the 40 family members and friends in attendance in SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. Crockrell's mother grew up in Mililani.