IRVINE — After losing seven of its previous eight games, including five of its last six in Big West Conference play, it was going to take something extra for the UC Irvine men's basketball team to earn a berth into the conference tournament.
The Anteaters delivered just that Thursday, posting a 96-87 win in double overtime over visiting UC Davis to all but assure themselves a date at the Honda Center for the eight-team Big West Tournament that will produce one automatic NCAA Tournament qualifier.
The win ups the Anteaters' record to 12-17, 5-9 in conference and propels them into sole possession of seventh place. With two regular-season conference games remaining, UCI needs just one win, or a loss by UC Davis (9-18, 3-10, with three conference games left) to extend its season.
UC Riverside, which plays host to UCI in the regular-season finale March 5, is 4-9 in conference after a loss to Pacific Thursday.
A loss Thursday would have dropped UCI into sole possession of last place in the nine-team conference. And there were times when the hosts flirted with such an outcome.
Davis needed a three-point buzzer-beater at the end of the first overtime to extend the game. The Aggies, who trailed most of regulation, pulled even with a free throw with 12 seconds left in regulation.
UCI junior Eric Wise, who returned after a six-game absence due to a hamstring injury, missed a 15-foot jumper at the end of regulation that could have won it.
But Wise, who was clearly rusty early (two points at halftime and two-of-10 shooting from the field in regulation), came up big in both overtimes. The 6-foot-6, 240-pounder had 12 points in 10 overtime minutes, including seven in the second five-minute period, to finish with a team-high 23 points. He also had a game-high 15 rebounds.
UCI scored on eight of nine of its possessions in the second overtime, with the one empty trip coming on two missed free throws.
The Anteaters converted the first points of the second OT on the fourth shot of their initial possession, as senior Darren Moore's follow shot put them up for good in a game that featured eight lead changes.
The score was tied 10 times, including 75-75, after UCI sophomore Mike Wilder drilled a three-pointer to erase the Aggies' biggest lead.
A layup by Wise and a steal and dunk by Moore gave UCI a 79-75 edge with 24 seconds left in the first overtime.
But Davis, which received 70 combined points from the triumvirate of seniors Joe Harden (24 points) and Mark Payne (20) as well as junior Eddie Miller (26), battled back.
Moore had 22 points, making nine of 17 field-goal attempts, and senior Pavol Losonsky had a career-high 20 points, sinking eight of 14 from the field.
Losonsky, whose three-pointer with 55 seconds left in the final overtime gave UCI a 91-84 lead, was eight for 14 from the field.
Wise came up with a steal 35 feet out with 30 seconds left, then hit two subsequent free throws, when Davis was trying to cut into a 91-86 deficit.
UCI made just 18 of 30 foul shots (60%), but was eight for 25 from three-point range.
The Anteaters won the rebounding battle, 49-44, and had just nine turnovers in 90 minutes, to 13 for the visitors.
Davis won, 108-107, in double overtime in the two team's first meeting, Jan. 29 at Davis.
"I'd like to know how many times teams have played two double-overtime games in a year," UCI Coach Russell Turner said. "It was a terrific game, just like the one up there was."
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 96, UC Davis 87
UCD – Miller 26, Harden 24, Payne 20, Sypkens 7, Tiffin 4, Ritchart 4, Howley 2.
3-pt. goals – Miller 2, Sypkens 1.
UCI – Wise 23, Losonsky 20, Moore 22, Rembert 9, Starring 9, Wilder 7, Strings 3, McNealy 3.
3-pt. goals – Losonsky 2, Moore 2, Wilder 1, Starring 1, Strings 1, McNealy 1.