IRVINE — Forgive Russell Turner for perhaps emptying the bench a little too soon Saturday night. But the second-year UC Irvine men's basketball coach is not exactly accustomed to lopsided victories.
Victory in general had been fleeting this season for the Anteaters, who earned their first triumph in seven games a 99-79 home thrashing of the University of San Diego.
The biggest margin of victory over a Division I opponent during Turner's tenure could have been worse, had the Toreros (4-3) not made a late charge that cut into a 38-point second-half advantage for UCI.
UCI, which entered the week ranked No. 330 among 338 Division I programs in field-goal shooting (35.4%), shot 61.9% for the game and 74.2% in a blistering first half. UCI made 11 of its 22 three-point attempts in the game.
UCI's top four scorers made a staggering 25 of 27 field-goal tries (92.6%), including perfect nights from junior Mike Wilder (seven for seven) and freshman reserve Will Davis (six for six).
Sophomore Chris McNealy drained seven of eight shots from the field, including both of his three-point attempts, on his way to 16 points.
Wilder netted each of his four three-point tries on his way to a game-high 19 points. He also added a team-best eight rebounds and seven assists, which tied career high.
Junior Adam Folker was five of six from the field, all in the first half, on his way to 11 points.
Davis finished with 15 points, while Junior Daman Starring chipped in 10 points and four assists.
McNealy had six assists, while freshman point guard Aaron Wright collected eight points, seven assists and six rebounds.
UCI totaled 29 assists, one shy of a school record, and the 99 points were the most allowed in regulation by San Diego since the 1979-80 campaign, its first as a Division I program.
UCI led, 85-47, when Turner shuffled out all his starters with more than eight minutes remaining.
San Diego's ensuing 11-0 run caused Turner to reconsider and after UCI reestablished command, all that was left was the suspense of whether the 'Eaters would hit triple digits.
"I do feel like we're a better team than what we've shown and better than what we look like on our record and our stat sheet," said Turner, who delivered an exaggerated postgame sigh of relief before addressing the media. "And it's a relief to have validated that, even if it's just for one night.
Turner said the positive result also validates the resiliency shown by his players and assistant coaches during the early losing streak.
"The hard thing about a tough start like that is that everybody looks at you like something's wrong with you," Turner said. "That's just a reality. That happens to the coaches and to the players. That's not easy to know how to handle.
"We had to work hard to maintain our positive attitude, but I've got naturally resilient positive guys. I've got those on my team and my staff. When you don't win in sports, people are on you. That's the way it ought to be. It's a tough business. We're going to have to fight and scratch and claw for everything we get, but I'll sure sleep better tonight knowing we got a win."
UC Irvine 99, San Diego 79