Anteaters going to first dance after winning Big West title

UC Irvine's Aaron Wright, center, celebrates the team's 67-58 win over Hawaii in the Big West tournament championship game on Saturday night.
UC Irvine’s Aaron Wright, center, celebrates the team’s 67-58 win over Hawaii in the Big West tournament championship game on Saturday night.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Pigs are cleared for takeoff. Camels have been given the go head to attempt the eye of that needle. English professors can ponder using I before E, even after C.

The definition of “never” has been redefined. UC Irvine is going to the NCAA tournament … the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

This was often considered so out far of reach that even Mamadou Ndiaye, the Anteaters’ 7-foot-6 center, wouldn’t be able to reach it. That changed Saturday, when Irvine outfought Hawaii for a 67-58 victory in the Big West tournament championship game at the Honda Center.

Irvine fans stormed the floor at the buzzer, chanting “UCI! UCI! UCI!” finally getting to do what they had seen so many other teams do over the years.


“This is a dream come true,” guard Luke Nelson said. “This is what we wanted. This what we got.”

Said Coach Russell Turner, “It means a lot, a lot to our fans, a lot to our players, a lot to our university and we’re excited.”

The Anteaters worked to get there. They rallied from a sluggish start against Hawaii (22-13).

Nelson drained a three-pointer with 1 minute 22 seconds left for a 59-52 lead. Garrett Nevels answered with a three to cut the lead to four. Nelson, who finished with a team-high 17 points, answered back with two free throws.

Will Davis II’s dunk with five second left signaled then end of 38 seasons wandering in the wilderness on the Division I level. Irvine (21-12) will finally get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.

The Anteaters were tied for 11th for the longest streak among teams that had never been to the tournament.

The Rainbow Warriors made eight of their first 11 shots. By the time the Anteaters had broken a sweat, they were down 20-7.

By halftime, Irvine had clawed back, trailing, 33-29.


Irvine made only five of 20 three-pointers. Ndiaye and Will Davis II made up for it inside with power moves. Davis scored 10 points and Ndiaye eight.

The second half was a back-and-forth affair. Irvine took its first lead, 41-39, with 11 minutes left on a layup by Ioannis Dimakopoulos