November 23, 2005

Early Observations

Nov. 23, 2005

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    For those who subscribe to the adage of "you learn something new every game," Tuesday's game at UCI was a case study. With 10 minutes left in the first half there was a collective groan from the fans at the Bren Center. Who could blame them? After all, the Anteaters missed their first shot after 13 straight makes.

    "Give Irvine a lot of credit," said associate head coach Steve Seandel. "But, we didn't do a very good job of guarding them. We had our chances but just couldn't quite get over the hump."

    The tone was set in the first one-quarter of the game with Santa Clara never fully able to recover, although the game was imminently winnable. The Broncos got within two points at 51-49, but UCI peeled off the next five and the lead was never any smaller.

    In front of at least 50 friends and family, Travis Niesen scored 18 of his 26 points after halftime on an array of running jumpers and short hooks. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough help during crunch time.

    "It wasn't really as close as an eight point game but I was pretty happy with our effort," said Seandel. "It was hard to sustain their ability to make threes but we showed some toughness in being able to play through their runs. We didn't back down and showed a lot of resilience. I don't want it to sound corny but it's a real testament to our character to hang in there."

    The Broncos will have to hang in there during a very difficult non-conference schedule that will either toughen them up for league play or have a demoralizing effect. The coaching staff is banking on the former.

    Mississippi State, North Carolina and Oregon are on the horizon but first it's the challenge of facing a long-time rival. Next up is a Pacific team that has lost just one conference game in two years and features a forward who very well may be in the NBA next year in Christian Maraker. He's 6'-9" and can score from anywhere on the floor. Expect both Niesen and Sean Denison to get their cracks at him during the game.

    While it's very early, at least two freshmen have shown they will have a significant impact on the fortunes of this team. John Bryant is learning the ropes in the post and although he looks like he can make a jumper from 16'-to-17', he's going to be a monster and the team would be better served if it can get him the ball near the basket. Calvin Johnson looks like he's more than capable of manufacturing his own shot in the flow of the offense and will be the best perimeter defender before the season ends, due to his ability to guard two or three positions. While no one should expect 5-of-8 on threes every game like against Cal State Stanislaus, "C.J." has nice range and provides a nice complement to Brandon Rohe and Mitch Henke on the wings.

    While not nearly as dynamic with playmakers, this year's edition of the Broncos may be a more precise group in terms of execution. They'll have to be to make up for the losses of Doron Perkins and Kyle Bailey. To that end, Brody Angley is set to have a breakout season. Getting to start 22 times last year was a partial passing of the torch to a guy who has the makings of a true floor general. Any outside shooting Brody adds will only be a bonus but not necessary for him to lead the team. With all due respect to Niesen, Angley may be the most indispensable player on the roster and must play about 30 minutes a night for this team to have a chance at an upper-division finish.

    The depth at the three-guard position took a hit with redshirt junior Scott Dougherty out for the year with a stress fracture in his foot. Because the navicular bone doesn't get the blood flow of other bones, it will take a lot longer to heal--5 to 6 months with Dougherty applying for a medical redshirt season.

    "I wouldn't be opposed to coming back and being a sixth year senior," says Dougherty. " I just want to keep my options open."

    Those options include applying for various dental schools and an eventual position with his father's practice in Oregon. Dougherty figured to contend for a starting spot with a vastly improved Henke, who looks like a consistent double-figure scorer.