UC Irvine's basketball team is off to a 2-0 start, but even Coach Bill Mulligan doesn't think the Anteaters will make it three straight tonight when they meet Pepperdine at Malibu.
"If we play very, very well . . . we still may not beat them, but we can make it a good game," Mulligan said. "We're delighted to be 2-0, but those two wins (in the Freedom Bowl tournament over Army and Manhattan College) were our two easiest games of the year."
Tonight's game probably will rank among the most difficult. Pepperdine opened its season Saturday night with an 84-76 overtime victory over 20th-ranked DePaul at DePaul.
The Anteaters' interior defense will have to improve if they expect to have a chance against the Waves. Army and Manhattan combined to score 62 points on layups, another 14 from five feet or closer and 40 points on free throws (many of which came after a player was fouled while attempting a layup). That's an average of 58 points a game without having to take a jump shot.
Pepperdine is led by 6-foot 7-inch forwards Tom Lewis and Levy Middlebrooks. Lewis, who orally committed to attend UCI but ended up going to Pepperdine, scored 26 points against DePaul. Middlebrooks had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"Tommy tries to draw the foul on every shot," Mulligan said. "You can't leave your feet when you guard him because he'll pump and pump and pump until he gets you in the air.
"And if you don't block Middlebrooks out, he'll kill you. He had three offensive rebound dunks in the first half against DePaul. The guy looks like he just stepped out of Gold's Gym, and he can still play basketball."
The Irvine backcourt could be in for a long night, too. Pepperdine guard Craig Davis scored 23 points Saturday.
Mulligan has juggled his starting lineup. Sophomore Mike Labat, who is still hobbled by an ankle injury that kept him out of practice for a month, replaces Mike Hess at point guard. Freshman Jeff Herdman, from Mission Viejo High School, takes over for Frank Woods at power forward. And junior Kevin Floyd, who was suspended for the first two games after an altercation in practice, replaces Mike Doktorczyk at small forward.
Woods, who asked Mulligan to move him to a wing position after shooting 35% from the floor in the Freedom Bowl tournament, will back up Floyd.