UC Davis gets back at UC Irvine in ugly Big West tournament championship win

UC Davis
UC Davis’ Lawrence White grabs a loose ball in front of UC Irvine’s Jaron Martin during the first half of the Big West tournament final on March 11.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Amazing the difference a week can make.

Way back then, UC Irvine had the easiest of times with UC Davis, beating them by 30 points.

Matched again Saturday in the championship game of the Big West tournament, the Anteaters found a very different game waiting for them. A very painful one.

Davis took control early, stumbled to start the second half and then took over down the stretch to edge Irvine, 50-47, at the Honda Center.

The victory earned Davis (22-12) the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, the first in the school’s history. The Aggies joined the Big West for the 2007-08 season.

Brynton Lemar led Davis in scoring with 20 points, while Luke Nelson led the Anteaters (21-14)with 14 points.

Nelson made a three-pointer with 7.3 seconds remaining to pull Irvine within one, but Lemar was fouled and made two free throws. Irvine, which committed 20 turnovers, was unable to get off a shot in the final seconds.

After an absolutely dismal first half, the Anteaters found new life after the break. Playing more aggressively offensively, they opened the second half with a 13-4 run.

A Tommy Rutherford slam at the 12:38 mark gave Irvine its first lead of the night. A game the Aggies had an opportunity to run away with suddenly was a back-and-forth game.

The first half did little to earn the Big West much respect for those viewing on national television.

Davis led at halftime, 24-16. That’s right, an Irvine team that scored 79 points against Davis last week was held to 16 points in the half. Not too surprisingly, it was their lowest point total in a half all season.

It took Irvine more than six minutes to get its first score. By then it was 0-for-4 from the field with five turnovers. It had 13 turnovers in the first half alone.

Davis wasn’t off to a much better start, but at least scored the game’s first six points. Irvine was able to close to within 10-9, but the Aggies answered with an 8-0 run and led by eight at the half. Davis shot only 34.5% in the first half (10 of 29), which looked pretty good compared with Irvine’s 26.1% (six of 23).