Any other game, the UC Irvine Anteaters would've been in real trouble.
For most of Thursday night, the second seed in the Big West tournament was totally ineffective stopping seventh-seeded Cal Poly on the perimeter, and its saving grace on the interior — 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye — was ejected for leaving the bench area during a scuffle.
But UC Irvine was gifted a career-best performance from junior guard Luke Nelson, whose 36 points were enough to pace his team to a comfortable 84-64 win in a quarterfinal game at Honda Center.
"Luke was pretty good tonight," Coach Russell Turner joked. "I didn't realize he had 36, but it seemed like at any point he rose to shot it, it looked like it was going to go in."
Nelson made 11 of 15 shots — including six of seven from beyond the arc — along with all eight of his free throws. He eclipsed his previous career high with more than 11 minutes remaining, and was one point away from tying the Big West tournament record.
"I wasn't surprised, because I have confidence in myself, and I got that from my teammates and my coaches," Nelson said. "I felt like I got in a rhythm early … we have guys who can go off on any given night, and tonight was my night."
The Anteaters (25-8, 13-3) were effective on defense in the paint, holding the Mustangs (10-20, 4-12) to just eight for 32 shooting. But Cal Poly stayed competitive — particularly early on — by knocking down triples. At the half, the Mustangs were nine for 13 on three-pointers, and they finished 13 for 23.
Santa Barbara (18-12, 11-5) led from start to finish, picking up its third victory this season over Davis (11-19, 6-10). Those games were relatively close, with six- and seven-point margins, respectively, but UC Santa Barbara is a much-improved team from earlier this year — Thursday's blowout was its ninth straight win.
First team Big West guard Michael Bryson had a game-high 24 points on eight-for-12 shooting (including five three-pointers) for the Gauchos. Sophomore guard Gabe Vincent chipped in with 20, and 11 Santa Barbara players registered at least one basket. The Aggies had four starters in double figures scoring, but just five bench points.
Hawaii 75, Cal State Fullerton 44: Until the 17-minute mark of the second half, the eighth-seeded Titans looked as if they might be putting together a March Madness-worthy performance against the top-seeded Rainbow Warriors.
The Titans had a 30-29 advantage, buoyed by a three-point buzzer-beater to end the first half by sophomore forward Jamar Akoh — his first triple of the season. They even had Big West player of the year Stefan Jankovic relegated to the bench in foul trouble. But the Warriors responded quickly and decisively, putting together a 28-3 run in less than seven minutes, and Fullerton never got back in it.
Long Beach State 82, UC Riverside 74: The 49ers (19-13, 12-4) used a 16-7 run midway through the second half to give themselves a bit of a cushion.
Senior guard Nick Faust contributed 21 points and 10 rebounds for Long Beach, which has won 10 of its last 11 games. Four players had at least 13 points for the Highlanders (14-19, 5-11).