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IRVINE — The fleeting scent of a UC Irvine men's basketball victory Thursday night was rendered even more fragrant with the advent of Derrick Flowers in bloom.
The Anteaters' junior point guard had a career-high nine assists and, combined with a solid performance at UCLA on Tuesday, appears to be making the most of an opening in the starting lineup created by freshman Aaron Wright's right-knee injury four games ago.
Flowers was one of a few bright spots for the Anteaters (3-9), who thumped visiting Hope International, 76-54, to halt a three-game losing streak. It was UCI's second win over an NAIA school this season, as it edged Vanguard, 75-73, at home on Dec. 10.
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Freshman Mike Best had a career-high 17 points and was one of six 'Eaters with at least one three-pointer.
Starters Daman Starring and Chris McNealy had 12 and 11 points, respectively, while Adam Folker added eight points and seven rebounds for the winners.
But along with Best, who drained eight of 10 field-goal attempts in 18 minutes, Flowers was the story.
"He's been waiting for an opportunity," Turner said of the 6-foot flash whose quickness with the ball has always been his calling card, even when he struggled with decisions on what to do with it.
"My sophomore year, [Turner] would throw me in there and hope I did something good. And if I did, he'd try to get me out of there before I did something wrong," said Flowers, whose most memorable assist came on a high alley-oop pass to Will Davis. Davis, a 6-8 freshman, soared over a defender to snare the pass, then dunked while being fouled, before sharing a leaping chest bump with Flowers.
"I feel like they are excited to play with me and I'm excited to play with them," Flowers said of his teammates, who like Flowers and Turner, are gaining confidence in their emerging floor leader.
"I felt like UCLA [nine points on four-of-five shooting from the field with three assists and one turnover] was my best game, until tonight, when I was the floor general," Flowers said. "I told everyone where to go and I got some guys some good shots. And I hit a few shots myself."
Flowers was just two of eight from the field, and one of six from three-point range. But he had only three turnovers in 29 minutes.