UC Irvine tops Denver with balanced effort, defense

DENVER — Evan Leonard scored 19 points to lead a balanced effort as UC Irvine topped Denver University 83-69 on Sunday night at Magness Arena.

Eyassu Worku added 12 points, while John Edgar Jr., Tommy Rutherford (11 rebounds), and Justin Wertner all had 10 points apiece to give UCI (1-1) its first game with five double-digit scorers since January of 2016.

The win followed Friday’s strange, sloppy season-opening loss at South Dakota State, when the Anteaters held the Jackrabbits to three baskets inside the 3-point arc but lost because the hosts outscored them by 27 points from long range.

The score was tied at 14-14 with 8:44 remaining in the first half when UCI embarked on a 16-2 run. Denver (0-1) perked up to start the second half, shaving a 10-point margin to seven before an 11-2 UCI run gave the Anteaters control of the game for good.

UCI played stingy team defense and led by as many as 23 in the second half. The Anteaters blocked eight shots and forced 14 turnovers while holding Denver to 33.3 percent shooting and just five 3-point baskets.

Leonard had four of UCI’s 10 steals and Worku added three.

“That needs to become our identity,” UCI coach Russell Turner said of the team-wide contributions.

Jos Rosga led the Pioneers with 15 points, while Daniel Amigo had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

UCI returns to the court on Tuesday night at 7 against Chapman.

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