In a season already historic, UC Irvine added its biggest piece yet Friday.
The Anteaters (31-5) extended their winning streak to 17. They will meet Oregon on Sunday at approximately 6:40 p.m. with a chance to move on to the Sweet 16.
Consecutive three-pointers by Leonard gave Irvine a 53-51 edge with 8:28 remaining, and the Anteaters never relinquished the lead.
Elston Jones added 11 points off the bench, and Robert Cartwright had 10.
After Leonard hit a jumper for the game’s first points, the Anteaters fell behind by as many as 10 twice in the first half.
But down 28-18, they surged back with a 9-0 bolt keyed by Jones, a reserve forward. The senior began the run with a three-point play and finished it with a pair of layups.
With the score 28-27, Irvine had a chance to take its second lead in the closing minutes of the half, but Hazzard missed two three-point tries, Eyassu Worku a three-pointer and Jonathan Galloway a put-back on two empty possessions.
After Kansas State’s Mike McGuirl made two free throws, the Anteaters finally caught the Wildcats — 30-30 — on a three-pointer by Hazzard at the first-half buzzer.
The Anteaters are the lone California team remaining in the tournament after St. Mary’s lost Thursday to Villanova, 61-57.
Jeff Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times.