There were 22 seconds left when the players on UC Irvine’s bench started lifting their jerseys to show their T-shirts underneath. “I think we can,” the shirts read. “UCI basketball.”
They could, and they did. Irvine, which entered the Big West Conference tournament with a 6-21 record, pulled off an 88-67 upset of top-seeded UC Santa Barbara in the first round before 4,134 at Long Beach Arena on Friday night.
The Anteaters will play fifth-seeded Pacific (13-15) in a semifinal tonight. Santa Barbara was No. 1 seeded because regular-season champion Nevada Las Vegas was excluded from the Big West tournament.
“We felt this way all year,” said Irvine Coach Rod Baker, who gave his players the T-shirts shortly before the game. “We’re a team in progress. From Oct. 15 on, we were trying to get a little better each day.”
The Gauchos, led by Lucius Davis’ 30 points, finished with a 20-8 record. Coach Jerry Pimm said the Gauchos’ chances of playing in the NCAA tournament are gone.
“You’ve got to have 21 or 22 wins in this kind of a year,” Pimm said. “We’re just hoping we can get an NIT bid.”
Irvine, which lost to Santa Barbara by two and six points during the regular season, startled the Gauchos at times with full-court pressure, and finished with 12 steals.
Irvine got 24 points from Gerald McDonald, 21 from Jeff Von Lutzow and 17 from Keith Stewart.
In other games:
New Mexico State 86, Fresno State 85--Junior Aggie guard Sam Crawford scored the final five points in regulation and the final eight points in overtime, including a three-pointer with 10 seconds remaining.
Crawford, who played at Westchester High and Moorpark College, finished with 29 points, seven assists and eight steals.
New Mexico State (21-7) will play Cal State Long Beach tonight at 9.
Fresno State finished 15-16.
Pacific 86, Utah State 69--The hottest team in the Big West took a 20-point second-half lead and coasted to its fifth victory in its last seven games.
Guards Dell Demps and Walsh Jordan combined to score 39 points for the Tigers. Forward Randy Lavender of Hawthorne High added 18 points.
Utah State finished 16-12.