UC Irvine (20-14) vs. Pacific (21-12)
Saturday, March 16, 10:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Honda Center (17,608) -- Anaheim, California. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: UCI 12-1, Pacific 13-2. Away Record: UCI 5-12, Pacific 4-9. Neutral Record: UCI 3-1, Pacific 4-1. Conference Record: UCI 11-7, Pacific 13-5. Series Record: Pacific leads, 41-37.
GAME NOTES: Pacific head coach Bob Thomason continues to prolong the inevitable as his Tigers now compete in the title game of the 38th annual Big West Conference Tournament against the UC Irvine Anteaters on Saturday night.
Thomason, who has been at the helm of the Tigers for the last quarter century, has announced that this will be his last season with the program, but at this point there's no telling when his last game will be. The second-seeded Tigers first defeated UC Santa Barbara (71-68) on Thursday, and then followed that up with a thrilling 55-53 victory over third-seeded Cal Poly on Friday night.
As for the fourth-seeded Anteaters, a squad which has never captured the crown in this event, they've now won three straight and eight of the last nine overall. Their run in the tourney began two days ago with a 71-60 victory over Hawaii, followed by a 67-60 win against Long Beach State on Friday.
The teams split their two meetings earlier in the campaign, each winning on its home floor. The Anteaters posted a 68-59 victory in February, and then Pacific returned the favor with a 70-62 decision at the Spanos Center nine days ago. The Tigers, winners of this tournament a total of four times, now own a 41-37 advantage in the all-time series.
Up against the defending tournament champs and this year's top seed in Long Beach State, the Anteaters got 18 points from Alex Young who made good on all six of his chances at the free-throw line which made all the difference on the night as UCI outscored the Beach by a 13-5 margin at the charity stripe. Coming up a rebound shy of a double-double was Will Davis II who tallied 14 points and made three blocks, followed by Chris McNealy with 13 points and seven boards.
Scoring almost 70 ppg this season, the Anteaters have survived to this point despite shooting only 66.4 percent at the free-throw line, but don't blame that on Daman Starring who connected on 78.4 percent of his attempts, en route to a team-best 13.0 ppg. Young (9.5 ppg) has also been rather solid at the stripe with 78.0 percent accuracy, while also leading the group in assists this season with 138.
Travis Fulton's put-back with 1.3 seconds remaining was just what the Tigers needed to keep coach Thomason on the sidelines for at least one more night, as the squad slipped by Cal Poly on Friday night. Fulton finished with 12 points which was second only to Ton Gill who stepped up with a perfect 4-of-4 behind the 3-point line, 7-of-8 from the floor overall, as he finished with 20 points. Defensively, the Tigers held Cal Poly to only 5-of-18 shooting beyond the arc.
Even though he scored just four points on 2-of-7 shooting from the floor on Friday, Lorenzo McCloud is still the top scorer for the Tigers overall this season with 11.2 ppg. A fixture at the free-throw line where he's made (121) more shots than any one of his teammates has even attempted, McCloud is also a valued facilitator who has handed out 134 assists for a squad generating 67.6 ppg on the campaign.
The Tigers cut it rather close last night, but there's something to be said for a team playing their hearts out for their head coach before he leaves the bench for the final time.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pacific 62, UC Irvine 59
03/16 10:45:45 ET