Guy sinks FTs on disputed foul, Virginia shocks Auburn in Final Four game

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Hard to call Virginia basketball boring after the last two games. And the Cavaliers have pretty much put the choker label to rest, too.

From one-and-done to NCAA Tournament miracle men, Virginia will play for the national title for the first time after pulling off another last-second stunner. Kyle Guy made three free throws with 0.6 seconds left, steadily swishing each one as debate immediately started over the sequence that sent him to the line, and Virginia beat Auburn 63-62 Saturday in the Final Four.

A year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16, these top-seeded Cavaliers now look like destiny’s team.

“It’s a great story,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “It is.”

The Cavaliers (34-3) will face Texas Tech on Monday night as the slight favorite to win the tournament.

Bennett has built a powerhouse in 10 years in Charlottesville on a style of play that is often about as exciting as a trip to the campus library. The Cavaliers have gotten straight A’s in the regular season with stingy defense and walk-it-up offense, but NCAA success has been hard to come by. Blown leads and early exits have been their story — never more than when the Cavaliers lost to UMBC, a school known for chess, not hoops.

Something has gotten into these Wahoos the last two weeks, though. They reached the Final Four for the first time since 1984 with a wild buzzer-beater by Mamadi Diakite to send their Elite Eight game against Purdue to overtime. Beating the Tigers took an even crazier finish.

Fifth-seeded Auburn (30-10) had erased a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes and taken a 4-point lead. Heartbreak was again at hand for Virginia.

The Tigers led 61-60 after Guy made an off-balance 3 with 7.6 seconds left. The shot snapped a drought of more than five minutes by the Cavaliers, who then immediately sent Jared Harper to the line.

Harper made one and Auburn, with fouls to give, did so twice. On one of them, it looked as if Ty Jerome might have double-dribbled into a decisive turnover. Jerome also might have been fouled before the mishandle. But there was no whistle for either.

“We knew there was a disruption,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.

With 1.5 seconds left and in need of some magic, Virginia got the ball to Guy in the corner. He turned and fired and Samir Doughty, hands straight up in the air, bumped into Guy’s hip. The shot was short, bouncing off the rim. Game over? Auburn started to celebrate and the PA announcer in U.S. Bank Stadium even announced the Tigers had won.

Guy pulled his jersey over his face. But not in angst. He said he exactly knew why official James Breeding had blown his whistle.

“I heard him call it right away,” Guy said. “That was me focusing.”

Meanwhile, Pearl lost it on the sideline, pumping his fist and screaming.

“We kind of thought we had it sealed,” said Bryce Brown, who led the Auburn comeback with three 3s in the final 4:30. “It’s not why we lost the game. I just didn’t agree with the call.”

Pearl said he didn’t want the final call to define a great game, but he did say the officials seemed to be letting physical play go throughout.

“My advice … if that’s a foul, call it,” Pearl said. “Call it at the beginning of the game, call it in the middle of the game, call it at the end of the game. Don’t call it any more or less at any other time during the game.”

Guy swished the first two free throws to tie it and Auburn called a timeout to ice him. Didn’t work. He hit one more for the lead.

“I just literally told myself that we dream of these moments, and to be able to make one happen was special,” Guy said.

Auburn threw a long inbound pass to Brown, but his desperation 3 was short.

The Cavaliers mobbed Guy on one end. Brown sat on the court, head hanging on the other. Auburn, in the Final Four for the first time, had its 12-game winning streak and season end in a most painful way.

NCAA national coordinator of officials J.D. Collins declined comment on the potential double dribble, but said Breeding’s call was correct.

The foul violated the rule that “verticality applies to a legal position and also to both the offensive and defensive players,” Collins said. “The defender may not ‘belly up’ or use the lower part of the body or arms to cause contact outside his vertical plane or inside the opponent’s vertical plane.”

Jerome scored 21 points for Virginia and De’Andre Hunter had 10 of his 14 in a stellar second half.

Doughty led Auburn with 13 points and Brown had 12 for Auburn, which survived the first round against New Mexico State when Terrell Brown of the Aggies missed two of three free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining in the Tigers’ 78-77 victory.

Auburn wasn’t so fortunate this time, and Virginia, the team that made UMBC a household name — at least for a little while — in the first round of last year’s tournament would not be denied. Being on the receiving end of maybe the most humbling NCAA Tournament upset ever has been Virginia’s cross to bear all season. Even after beating Auburn, the Cavaliers had to recall the feeling of their offseason routine starting unexpectedly early last year.

“I feel like I get asked this question every single round, every round we advance, and every round I say the same thing almost,” Jerome said, “and it feels a little bit sweeter, a little bit sweeter.”

Then Guy said: “Not much to add. Just you guys can ask that question again on Monday.”

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Mooney scores, Texas Tech clamps down in Final Four victory over Michigan State

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For those who thought Texas Tech only plays defense, it’s time to meet Matt Mooney.

While the Red Raiders were locking down Michigan State on one end, the graduate transfer shooting guard was raining in 3s on the other, lifting Tech one win away from a title Saturday night with a 61-51 victory over the Spartans in the Final Four.

Mooney matched his season-high with 22 points, including three 3-pointers over the span of 3 minutes to give Texas Tech a 13-point lead midway through the second half.

With the kind of ‘D’ Texas Tech plays, it was too much to overcome, and now the Red Raiders are getting ready for another defensive battle, in a Monday final against Virginia, and its vaunted pack line defense. The Cavaliers are a slight 1-point favorite, and the over/under was at 117½ and falling late Saturday night.

Texas Tech wins by doing just enough on the offensive end. On this night, Mooney did the major damage.

“He’s obviously very, very talented, but the thing that impressed me tonight was just his courage, wanting to make those big plays in big moment,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said.

Mooney’s first two shots in the stretch capped a 5-for-5 hot streak by Texas Tech (31-6) that stood as the game’s only true blast of offense. His third 3 gave Texas Tech a 48-35 lead with 9:38 left.

Before and after that, it was all about defense — a game filled with air balls, blocked shots and clogged-up passing lanes. At one point, over a two minute stretch late in the first half, eight shots went up. Six of them didn’t touch the rim.

It was, to put it Texas Tech’s way, perfectly ugly.

“It’s like they never make mistakes,” Michigan State forward Kenny Goins said. “They got us kind of caught in that trap today.”

Michigan State (32-7) leaves coach Tom Izzo’s eighth Final Four with its seventh loss — the 2000 title is still the only time the Spartans have taken it all the way under their veteran coach.

But they did not go away easily.

After Mooney put them down by a baker’s dozen, the Spartans trimmed it to 3. Matt McQuaid had a wide-open look from the corner — one of the very few on this night — that would’ve tied it with 1:50 left, but the ball rimmed out and the Red Raiders pulled away.

Jarrett Culver (10 points, five boards) finished it off. He made one free throw on the next trip down, then Norense Odiase swiped the ball from MSU’s Xavier Tillman — one of Tech’s four steals on the night — and the Red Raiders worked the ball to Culver, who made his only 3 to push the lead to 58-51 and start the celebration.

Culver shot 0 for 6 in the first half, and scored six of his 10 points over the last 2:30.

“When you’ve got a whole team that trusts you on the court, you keep shooting with confidence,” he said.

Meanwhile, a defense that led the nation in efficiency and held teams to under 37% shooting this season — second best in the county — held Michigan State to 31.9% from the floor.

Most tellingly, it stymied Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston. Yes, Winston led the Spartans with 16 points, but it came on 4-for-16 shooting, and he was held scoreless in second half for more than 10 minutes — not perking up until after Mooney had given the Red Raiders their big cushion.

Mooney is the fifth-year senior who made his way to Texas Tech after graduating from South Dakota — the school he transferred to after a rough year at Air Force.

Most all these Red Raiders have a story like that.

Beard is on his 12th stop in a travelogue of a career — and he’s been recruiting grinders like him to help him take this most-unexpected ride.

Culver wasn’t in the top 300 among high school recruits, and chose his hometown college over a few other places. He kept battling despite the rough start, and Texas Tech overcame his cold first half to head to the locker room leading by the not-so-scintillating score of 23-21. It was the lowest scoring first half at the Final Four since the Spartans took a 19-17 lead over Wisconsin in a 2000 slugfest.

“We threw a lot of punches tonight,” Beard said. “We tried a lot of things on defense, and fortunately most of them worked.”

Culver had one block and rim protector Tariq Owens, also a grad transfer, had three more before leaving late in the second half with a leg injury.

Owens came jogging back in toward the end to the cheers of the Texas Tech crowd, which included alum Patrick Mahomes, the high-flying QB for the Chiefs.

“Pretty cool to have the MVP of the NFL on our side, cheering for us,” Mooney said.

Turns out, the quarterback isn’t the only Red Raider who can light up that scoreboard.

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Brubaker pitches complete game as UC Irvine baseball defeats LBSU Dirtbags

IRVINE – UC Irvine’s Tanner Brubaker and Long Beach State’s Nick Avila went head-to-head in a pitcher’s duel Saturday night at Cicerone Field, the Anteaters getting the win thanks to a ball that rolled about ten feet.

Brubaker won his fourth game of the season and lowered his ERA to 2.04, pitching the Anteater’s first complete game of the season in a 4-1 win, allowing just six hits, not walking anyone and striking out eight.

Avila, making his second start for the Dirtbags, allowed three hits in seven innings and the lone run scored against him cam home on a force play.

Tied 1-1 after 7 ½, the Anteaters rallied against reliever Tyler Gums. With one out, Mikey Filia drew a walk and went to third on Brandon Lewis’ single to left field.

With Adrian Damla at-bat, head coach Ben Orloff called for a safety squeeze. Damla’s bunt slowly rolled toward the pitcher but never reached the grass. Catcher Dominic Campeau stayed home and let Gums make the play, and the pitcher’s throw was too late to get Filia.

“We want to be able to win any kind of game we’re in,” Orloff said after the win that pushed the Anteaters to 20-5 on the season and 4-1 in Big West play. “It was a safety squeeze which can be tough to defend.”

Filia went on contact as the ball rolled toward the mound. “You just trust the play,” the junior center field said.

“You go on contact and run as fast and as hard as you can.

“I thought the pitcher did a good job getting off the mound and to the ball.”

“I’m not sure it was a safety squeeze,” Dirtbags coach Troy Buckley said. “It was just aggressive baseball. Filia did a great getting down the line.”

The bunt made it 2-1, and Christian Koss singled two runs home later in the inning to make it 4-1.

Both coaches praised their starters. Orloff left Brubaker in for nine even though he allowed the leadoff man to reach base in six of nine innings.

“The way he throws so many strikes, he wasn’t going to beat him by issuing any walks even when they had men on base,” Orloff said.

Avila pitched well in a five-inning start last week at Cal. He worked out of a second-and-third and one out rally in the sixth. UC Irvine was able to use a single, two walks and a groundout to nick him for a run in the seventh and tie the game.

“Nick gave us a chance to win, and I think that’s a good step up for him,” Buckley said of the junior right-hander. “That was his longest effort, and it would have been unfair to him if we had asked him to go any longer.”

Long Beach got its run on Calvin Estrada’s first home run of the season, a line drive over the left field wall.

The snake bit Dirtbags (4-25) got the leadoff runner on in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings but were unable to push a run across. In the eighth, Kyle Hogan singled, went to second on a bunt and to third on a fly ball, but Jacob Hughey struck out to end the rally.

The Anteaters finally got a run in the seventh. With one out, Mike Peabody singled. Avila then issued his first walk on four pitches to Christian Koss, then was ahead of John Jensen 1-2 before walking Jensen to load the bases.

Avila stayed in and Brooks hit a grounder in the hole a short that resulted in a fielder’s choice and a run to tie the game 1-1.

The Anteaters have gone from the unranked to the No. 19 spot in the latest rankings. They win Saturday clinched the series for them, giving them a series win in all eight they have played this season.

The teams finish the series at Cicerone Field today at 1 p.m.

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Duke’s Zion Williamson wins AP men’s college player of the year

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Just about everything Zion Williamson did at Duke created a highlight or headline in a spectacle of a season.

The soaring dunks.

The open-court moves more nimble than his 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame should allow.

Even the freak occurrence of one of his feet tearing through its shoe in a fall to the court.

Handling all that attention became maybe the biggest lesson for the freshman, who quickly became the face of college basketball and the game’s biggest star in years — then fittingly finished as The Associated Press men’s player of the year.

“I was comfortable with it because you don’t really have a choice,” Williamson said in an interview with the AP earlier this week. “I think if you try to force it out, then it’s going to bother you. … My mom just told me to look at it as a lot of kids would wish to be in my position, so if it does bother me, I just think about it like that.”

Williamson claimed 59 of 64 votes from AP Top 25 voters before the NCAA Tournament in results released Friday. Freshman teammate RJ Barrett earned two votes as a fellow AP first-team All-American, while Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, Michigan State’s Cassius Winston and Murray State’s Ja Morant each earned one vote.

Williamson had hoped to be in Minneapolis preparing for Saturday’s national semifinals like Hunter and Winston. But the Blue Devils fell to Winston’s Spartans in the Elite Eight as the top overall seed.

“I was just telling (teammates) don’t let nobody tell you this season was a disappointment, because people have got to understand it’s March Madness,” he said, adding: “I mean, winning the championship is not a cakewalk.”

In a likely one-year college stop for a possible top overall NBA draft pick, the 18-year-old Williamson averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while ranking second nationally by shooting 68%. He also ranked among the Atlantic Coast Conference leaders in steals (2.12) and blocks (1.79).

Williamson’s play was marked by breathtaking athleticism to go by, through and over anyone to get the ball (look at his personal-favorite 360-degree dunk against Clemson or his rapid-closeout swat of Hunter’s shot at Virginia for proof).

There was the charisma, too. He projected a self-assured ease amid the crush of postgame interviews, even routinely having walk-on Mike Buckmire join him as a wingman as though bringing his teammate into his unique orbit.

“It’s been remarkable what he’s done,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who recruited Williamson. “There hasn’t been many guys like that to come down the road. So the attention he’s gotten, I think he’d deserved. … He’s driven a different ship.”

That February shoe blowout illustrated just how different.

Williamson missed nearly six full games after injuring his knee in the fall, which had his left foot sticking through the side of his Paul George signature shoe from Nike. The bizarre image wounded Nike’s day-after stock price and had some arguing that he shouldn’t return to protect his pro stock.

That was never an option for Williamson. He returned in the ACC Tournament sporting a reinforced pair of Kyrie Irving Nikes, which followed Nike representatives visiting Duke’s campus to sort out what went wrong.

The unusual moments of stardom didn’t stop there, either.

“Cars will be driving by (on campus) and I mean, they’ll just stop,” Williamson said with a chuckle. “In the middle of the road. And people will jump out of the car and get pictures. I’m looking at my watch, I have two minutes to get to class and my class is a five-minute walk. … I’ll look at them and they’ll be so high, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I got you, I’ll take the picture.”

He also frequently encountered Duke fans waiting near the practice gym for autographs.

“You’ve got 20 minutes before that clock starts for practice, you’ve got like 20 people outside,” Williamson said. “You’re like, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ So then it comes down to: do I say no? Or do I tell them to wait?

“I’ve been in a lot of situations. Sometimes they understood, other times they weren’t so accepting of it. But I guess that’s part of life.”

Williamson said there’s “obviously a high possibility” he enters the draft but he’s not ready to make anything official as he enjoys being a college student a little longer with plans on taking summer classes toward a degree.

Williamson said he has no regrets, calling the season “the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”

“My mom would tell me, ‘College is something you don’t want to miss out on’ because not only have I enjoyed the basketball side of coming to Duke, I’ve enjoyed being a student here just as much,” Williamson said. “The relationships I’ve built with the students here — like talking to kids I guess people wouldn’t picture me talking to, hanging out with them — it’s bigger than basketball.”

VOTING BREAKDOWN

  • Zion Williamson, Duke — 59
  • R.J. Barrett, Duke — 2
  • De’Andre Hunter, Virginia — 1
  • Ja Morant, Murray State — 1
  • Cassius Winston, Michigan State — 1

 

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Long Beach State sweeps UC Irvine in men’s volleyball

LONG BEACH – All three set sweeps in volleyball aren’t necessarily as one-sided as they look.

Long Beach State took a 28-26, 26-24 and 25-14 win over UC Irvine at the Walter Pyramid Saturday night, the first two sets coming down to a sliver of good play and good fortune by the 49ers.

The No. 2 ranked 49ers, who beat the Anteaters in four sets Friday in Irvine, used 13 kills, three aces, three digs and a block from Kyle Ensing for their Saturday win. TJ DeFalco and Nick Amado had nine kills each and Josh Tuaniga had nine digs and 36 assists without an error.

“Those were two good back-to-back wins against a good team that battled,” head coach Alan Knipe said after the win that improved the 49ers to 21-1 and 6-0 in Big West play.

“Our offense struggled in the first set but our serving and defense bailed us out. I always say that if one part of your game isn’t working, the other parts can sometimes be that which gets it going. We showed a lot of grit and fight to come back to win the second set.”

“We do find energy late in matches, but we really want to punch the opponent in the face in the first set, and make them play our game,” said libero Jordan Molina.

The first set saw both teams use runs to get a lead or get back into the game – the 49ets an early 5-0 and late 6-1, and UC Irvine a 4-0 ad 5-1 of their own. The set was tied at 20 when the 49ers finally were able to subdue the Anteaters. They had four set-point opportunities but the Anteaters rallied for ties each time.

Tied at 26, Ensing dropped a back row kill and Irvine’s Aaron Koubi’s kill attempt caught the antennae to give the 49ers the set. UC Irvine challenged the call but the replay monitor wasn’t conclusive enough to change the initial call.

UC Irvine outplayed the 49ers for most of the second set. They had a three-point lead midway through and sustained that edge to a 22-18 lead. The set could have been over if the Anteaters hadn’t committed seven service errors.

Long Beach hit the accelerator and outscored UC Irvine 8-2 down the stretch. DeFalco had a kill and an ace to start it and Ensing had back-to-back kills, sandwiched around two Irvine errors. Down 24-23, Ensing scored to tie it, Amado was at the center of a triple block of UC Irvine’s Joel Apfelbach, and the Anteaters muffed DeFalco’s serve on game point.

The 49ers ran off to a quick 9-4 lead in the third set and used an 8-2 run to end the set and claim the match. It was the seventh loss in eight matches for UC Irvine (14-9), who has been without outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller for four matches with an arm injury.

Schneidmiller was the freshman of the year in the Big West in 2018 and led the Anteaters in kills with a 3.6 average and a team-high 41 aces.

“In this situation, you gave a Plan A if he plays and a Plan B if he doesn’t,” Knipe said. “You don’t usually have access to injury information so you prepare for anything.”

UC Irvine expects Schneidmiller to return but has no timetable. “The fortunate thing about the injury is the timing,” Anteaters coach David Kniffin said. “We got to test the adjustments we have to make against a great team. I thought we played well enough to win the first two sets.

“It would be a strong statement to say anyone is comparable to TJ (DeFalco), but Joel has been a big part of our success and our identity. I’ve stressed to the team that we need to play the best brand of UC Irvine volleyball while he’s out, which I think can be competitive with anyone.”

The 49ers have four regular seasons games left, a home-and-home with UC San Diego next weekend and then two home games against No. 1-ranked Hawaii April 12-13.

UC Irvine has home-and-home matches against Northridge and UC Santa Barbara to end their season. The Big West Tournament, which all six teams compete for, is April 18-20 at Hawaii.

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March Madness: UC Irvine community rallies behind men’s basketball team

IRVINE – The UC Irvine men’s basketball team made the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the program’s history after winning the 2019 Big West Conference Tournament.

The 13th-seeded Anteaters took a step forward Sunday when they played in the second round of the tournament against No. 12 Oregon in San Jose. UCI upset No. 4 Kansas State in the first round Friday.

The program’s first tournament appearance was cut short with a 57-55 first round loss to Louisville in Seattle, Washington in 2015.

A gathering of UCI supporters came together at the Newkirk Alumni Center on campus to watch their team’s NCAA Tournament game against Oregon. The supporters was made up of current students, staff and alumni.

The UC Irvine fans are excited about the 8-0 scoring run to start the second half against Oregon. #StillHungry pic.twitter.com/7tA6h3hEY9

— Inside SoCal Sports (@InsideSoCalSpts) March 25, 2019

Connor Crowley, a UCI alumnus, credits his time as Peter the Anteater and watching the team’s first appearance as a reason he is a “life long fan.”

“I think win or lose tonight, it was going to be a great day to be an anteater especially being in uncharted territory and never being this far,” Crowley said. “We were so close to beating Rick Pitino and Louisville (in 2015) … to have this opportunity to come back again made it a proud day.”

The watch party allowed for alumnus like Crowley to return to campus and interact with friends such as Fritzi Washington.

“I think it takes something to bring the community together and I am really proud to see this milestone,” Washington said. “I think having this moment and this second round game is big enough.”

UCI was the last California representative in the 2019 tournament after St. Mary’s lost to Villanova in the first round.

More reaction:

Thanks for the warm welcome back to the hotel @uciband ☺pic.twitter.com/V7amdRaL28

— UCI M Basketball (@UCImbb) March 25, 2019

Congratulations on an extraordinary season, @ucimbb! #ucipride #MarchMadness2019 https://t.co/JZmObXTrtY

— City of Irvine (@City_of_Irvine) March 25, 2019

Couldn’t be more proud of my guys. Fought til the end and I couldn’t be more happy to be an Anteater. Til next time #zotzotzot

— Dominique Dunning (@niquedunning) March 25, 2019

Congratulations to my Eaters for an exciting and historic season and representing the school well. Thank you @UCImbb for allowing me to live vicariously through you. Much love!!! #togetherwezot #stillhungry #proudalum #eaternation

— Jerry Green (@IAMrgreen) March 25, 2019

“We did something special this season. So, while we lost tonight it feels to me in many ways that we won.”

Head coach Russ Turner on historic run for @UCImbb coming to a close after 2nd round loss to Oregon in @marchmadness.

— Kristin MacDougald (@KMacDougald) March 25, 2019

We’re just getting started @UCImbb — helluva season. Proud to be an Anteater! Y’all put us on the basketball map this year. Congrats on a historical season and here’s to many more more. #StillHungry #ZotZotZot

— Rahul Mangalore (@Rahul_Mangalore) March 25, 2019

Good Effort @UCImbb . You should be nothing but proud for reaching record new heights for our team this year.

— zεεsнαη (@QadriZee) March 25, 2019

Congrats on a great season, @UCImbb. Way to represent for the 949. https://t.co/TLiv78d8lx

— Kyle Bunch (@bunch) March 25, 2019

Proud of my anteaters @UCImbb. Insane we came back at the half to take the lead. But @OregonMBB just killed us on 13of 25 on 3pt shots. #goeaters till next year. pic.twitter.com/2LlthvVksY

— Peter Pham (@peterpham) March 25, 2019

Congrats to @UCImbb for a great run… Proud to be an anteater! #UCIPride #togetherwezot #UCIalum @UCIAthletics @UCIAA @PeterTAnteater @UCIrvine pic.twitter.com/8tfIJQiTrl

— Melissa Mecija (@10NewsMecija) March 25, 2019

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Whicker: UC Irvine finds itself in a different weight class in loss to Oregon

SAN JOSE – Some seeds are harder to chew than others.

Oregon came into SAP Center with a choir of long-armed jumpers who would look right at home on an NBA bench. It also had playmaking guard Payton Pritchard and a scrambling, feisty graduate transfer from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi named Ehab Amin, who couldn’t do anything wrong if he tried.

This was the 12th seed in the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Often, the 12th seed is a scruffy band from some Eastern gym that comes into this event with great ambition but little reason. Oregon looked and played more like a 5 seed, except that it blew out Wisconsin, the 5 seed, on Friday.

Oregon wasn’t a good matchup for UC Irvine Sunday and might not be for anybody. The Ducks survived a UC Irvine charge at the beginning of the second half and won, 73-54, sending the Anteaters home with a 31-6 record and the bittersweet assurance that they lost to a big-league team.

“They played at an incredible level,” said Russell Turner, the UCI coach, who was feisty as ever in the highest-profile game in school history. “They made a bunch of big shots at the end of the shot clock. We figured that some plays would be decided then, and they were. Maybe we were a little late getting out on their shooters at times, I don’t know.

“They sped us up and we made some untimely turnovers. We had 15 of them at the game and that doesn’t count some of the times we served up layups for them (eight blocked shots) to run out on.”

That said, it didn’t seem like a 19-point game. It was a 12-point game at halftime, even though UCI was actually winning the boards, thanks to Jonathan Galloway’s dogged work in his final college game.

But then Robert Cartwright, the grad transfer from Stanford who has been so instrumental these past two weeks, worked his way free for a 3-pointer to open the second half. The Anteaters rode that energy to a 12-0 run, culminating in a drive and a basket for Cartwright that began at the mid-court line.

Oregon missed its first 11 shots of the second half. UCI was owning the loose balls. Spencer Rivers took a charge, Tommy Rutherford converted two buckets inside. The Big West champs were up 37-35. Nobody else in the tournament was playing. Everybody in America who wasn’t already sated with basketball was tuned in.

“Then they started playing better defense,” Galloway said. “They were making us uncomfortable, and they were hitting shots, and we weren’t on them.”

Amin, who hit all four of his 3-pointers, got it started with a longball, 7:34 into the second half. Then he took a charge from Rivers. Then Louis King struck for another three. After Evan Leonard responded for the Anteaters, Oregon ran off seven more points, with Pritchard gaining his footing, and after it got to 55-47, Amin hit a three as he was falling into his own bench. It took all that to finally dissuade the Anteaters.

“I’m not sure he called it but he’ll take it!” 😂

Oregon is rolling to take an 11 point lead!#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/93MXSFidOY

— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 25, 2019

King wound up with 16 points, and he no doubt enjoyed each one after listening to some pointed barbs from Turner.

In the handshake line, the Oregon forward and the Anteaters’ coach stopped and chatted. What happened?

“During the first half I was saying for us to double-team Queen,” Turner said of King. “I was trying to get into his head, calling him Queen. I thought it might irritate him, but he’s like the queen in chess, he’s that important to their team.

“It bothered him, but he came back really strong. And he had a thing or two to say back to me. So I wanted to tell him I did it out of respect. They were right in front of us, so I utilize my voice as best I can to help my team.”

Turner probably hasn’t heard the last of this incident. On the other hand, he did come clean about it, unlike  Mike Krzyzewski two years ago, when the Duke coach badmouthed Oregon’s Dillon Brooks in the handshake line at Honda Center and then denied he said it, until the tape came out.

Maybe Turner just knew it might take psychological warfare. Oregon is under-seeded because of injuries and some mediocre play in December and January. It was 15-12 at one point and lost two apparently safe leads to UCLA. But the Ducks certainly will pass the eye test against anyone they play, including Virginia on Thursday night in Louisville.

“They’re going to be a tough out,” Turner said. “They’re a problem to play because they’re unusual.”

So was UC Irvine. With five rotation players returning for 2019-20 and with a solid program in hand, maybe the sight of Anteaters in March won’t be.

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March Madness 2019: NCAA Tournament South Region breakdown

With so much going on, who can remember what happened the last time Virginia was the No. 1 seed in the South Region? Oh right, everyone does.

Last year Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round – and it wasn’t close, with No. 16 UMBC winning by 20.

After a stellar regular season – the only losses were to No. 1 overall seed Duke — now the Cavs are right back in the same spot. Will the added motivation lead to their first Final Four in 35 years, or will the added pressure lead to more disappointment?

Virginia isn’t the only team seeking a breakthrough. No. 2 Tennessee has never made the Final Four, but it has wins over Gonzaga and Kentucky (twice) and was the top-ranked team in the country for four weeks behind SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams, the conference’s leading scorer.

Third-seeded Purdue (1980) and fourth-seeded Kansas State (1964) are also looking to break long Final Four droughts.

The Cavs could get a serious test in the second round against No. 9 Oklahoma, which is led by three senior guards.

An intriguing wild card will be home-court advantage for lower-seeded teams in the second round. No. 7 Cincinnati could play Tennessee two hours from campus in Columbus, Ohio, while No. 6 Villanova could play Purdue in the Big East territory of Hartford, Connecticut.

A double-digit seed with the best chance to advance is Oregon, which has won eight straight (albeit in the much-maligned Pac-12). The Ducks were also a No. 12 seed in San Jose in 2013 when it beat Oklahoma State and St. Louis to get the Sweet 16.

Looking for a sentimental choice? Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones is currently battling prostate cancer. The Monarchs beat tournament teams Syracuse and VCU and made the NCAAs for the first time in eight years.

SOUTH REGION

FAVORITE: VIRGINIA

The Cavaliers allow 54.6 points per game, four fewer than anyone else in the country. Of course, they’ve disproved the “defense wins championships” myth plenty of times under coach Tony Bennett, with no regional titles despite four No. 1 seeds in the past six years. At least they’re healthy this time – ACC defensive player of the year De’Andre Hunter missed last year’s loss with a broken wrist.

SLEEPER: VILLANOVA

No program has had as much recent NCAA Tournament success – the Wildcats have won 2 of the last 3 titles. Sure, four players from last year’s championship team are now in the NBA, but Villanova continued to dominate the Big East, winning the regular season and conference titles behind guard Phil Booth and forward Eric Paschall.

UPSET ALERT: UC IRVINE OVER KANSAS STATE

UC Irvine might be the best team in California. Featuring eight different players that have led the team in scoring, the Anteaters are the first Big West program with 30 wins since UNLV went to the Final Four in 1991. Meanwhile, Kansas State will likely be without All-Big 12 senior forward Dean Wade, who missed the conference tournament with a foot injury.

BRACKET BREAKDOWN

While none of the top five seeds are riding the momentum of a conference championship, they all feature either outstanding offense or lockdown defense (or both). Virginia, Tennessee and Purdue and three of the top four offenses in the Ken Pomeroy efficiency rankings, while Virginia, Wisconsin and Kansas State have three of the top five defenses.

THE MATCHUPS

1. Virginia (29-3), at-large, ACC

16. Gardner-Webb (23-11), automatic, Big South

 

8. Ole Miss (20-12), at-large, SEC

9. Oklahoma (19-13), at-large, Big 12

 

5. Wisconsin (23-10), at-large, Big Ten

12. Oregon (23-12), automatic, Pac-12

 

4. Kansas State (25-8), at-large, SEC

13. UC Irvine (30-5), automatic, Big West

 

6. Villanova (25-9), automatic, Big East

11. St. Mary’s (22-11), automatic, WCC

3. Purdue (23-9), at-large, Big Ten

14. Old Dominion (26-8), automatic, Conference USA

 

7. Cincinnati (28-6), automatic, American

10. Iowa (22-11), at-large, Big Ten

 

2. Tennessee (29-5), at-large, SEC

15. Colgate (24-10), automatic, Patriot

 

BY THE NUMBERS

3 – Wisconsin and Oregon will be meeting in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in six seasons. Wisconsin beat Oregon in the second round in 2014 and 2015.

14 – Ole Miss was picked to finish last out of 14 teams in the SEC preseason poll under new coach Kermit Davis.

FAB FIVE

  • Phil Booth: Villanova, G, 18.6 ppg, 3.8 apg
  • Carson Edwards: Purdue, G, 23.0 ppg, 3.0 apg
  • Ethan Happ: Wisconsin, F, 17.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 4.6 apg
  • De’Andre Hunter: Virginia, G, 15.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg
  • Grant Williams: Tennessee, F, 19.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg

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Whicker: UC Irvine acts like Big West bully in blowout of Cal State Fullerton

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway cuts a piece of the net as a souvenir after the Anteaters defeated Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Tournament title game on Saturday night at Honda Center, clinching a berth in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine guard Evan Leonard, left, takes a shot over Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe in the first half of the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

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  • UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard celebrates after making a 3–point basket against Cal State Fullerton during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Jamal Smith, second from left, is cornered by UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, forward Tommy Rutherford, and forward Jonathan Galloway, from left, in the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Jamal Smith, left, looks to escape UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, forward Tommy Rutherford, and forward Jonathan Galloway, from left, in the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Austen Awosika, center, puts up a shot as he moves between UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford, left, and forward Elston Jones, right, in the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad, center, fights his way up the middle against UC Irvine players to try to put up a shot in the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward JC Butler, left, takes a shot as he bumps into Cal State Fullerton forward Josh Pitts in the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Jamal Smith, center, loses control of the ball as UC Irvine guard Spencer Rivers, left moves in during the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford reaches for a rebound during Saturday’s Big West Tournament title game against Cal State Fullerton at Honda Center. UCI (30-5) routed the Titans to clinch an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine coach Russell Turner yells out to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Fullerton for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine forward Elston Jones, center, passes the ball away after getting cornered by a trio of Cal State Fullerton players in the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway, right, muscles his way to the basket against Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang, left, in the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway waits for the time to run out in the Big West Tournament final to begin the celebration in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Collin Welp, left, and forward Jonathan Galloway, right, celebrate after Welp scored a basket against Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Tournament final in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, left, shoots over Cal State Fullerton guard Austen Awosika, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway (5) gets fouled by Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang (33) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine guard Spencer Rivers, left, lays up a shot against Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe, right, and UC Irvine guard Evan Leonard, left, scramble for the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad, center, and UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford, left, and guard Evan Leonard, right, vie for the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine forward Collin Welp, left, and forward Tommy Rutherford, right, battle Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe, center, for the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford, left, pulls down a rebound against Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Austen Awosika, right, drives against UC Irvine forward Elston Jones during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard (2) shoots over Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang (33) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard (2) celebrates with forward Collin Welp, right, after Welp makes a shot and gets a foul called on Cal State Fullerton on the play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine starters guard Evan Leonard (14), guard Max Hazzard (2), forward Tommy Rutherford (42) and forward Jonathan Galloway (5) celebrate in the last seconds of the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Fullerton for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard, right, does a little dance as he celebrates with teammates following their lopsided victory over Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Tournament championship game late Saturday night at Honda Center. UCI will learn its NCAA Tournament opponent and site when the bracket for the Big Dance is revealed Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine players Tommy Rutherford, Evan Leonard, and Max Hazzard, from left, celebrate after the Anteaters won the Big West Tournament Championship over Cal State Fullerton in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine players including forward Tommy Rutherford, second from left, celebrate winning the Big West Tournament Championship over Cal State Fullerton in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway gets hugs as the Anteaters celebrate winning the Big West Tournament Championship over Cal State Fullerton in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine players celebrate after winning the Big West Tournament Championship against Cal State Fullerton in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine guard Spencer Rivers, center, celebrates the Anteaters victory over Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Tournament Championship in Anaheim on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine players celebrate after the team defeats Cal State Fullerton 92-64 during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner, center, celebrates with a fan after his team defeats Cal State Fullerton in an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway (5) dances with cheerleaders after his team defeated Cal State Fullerton during an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard, center, takes a selfie with a fan after an NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Fullerton for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner, right, celebrates with guard Spencer Rivers (25) after their team defeats Cal State Fullerton in an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner celebrates with the trophy after his team defeated Cal State Fullerton 94-64 in an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard celebrates with the MVP trophy after his team defeated Cal State Fullerton in an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. UC Irvine won 92-64. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner celebrates after cutting down the net after his team defeated Cal State Fullerton 94-64 in an NCAA college basketball game for the Big West men’s tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

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ANAHEIM — Shooters shoot, especially after they don’t.

Max Hazzard was trying to fire dirigibles into a thimble in the Big West Tournament semifinals on Friday. He was throwing walnuts into a wheelbarrow Saturday.

He hit two 3-pointers in the first 3:32. Then he darted into the left corner, where Robert Cartwright had the ball. Cartwright, a keen observer, handed it to Hazzard, who drilled another long one, and Hazzard sprinted downcourt like he was running the 40 at a combine. Mad Max put UC Irvine ahead 13-4 in the championship game, and Cal State Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor was not encouraged.

“When he hit those shots I knew we were in for a long night,” Taylor said. “But they were hitting everything. Jonathan Galloway tapped one in from what looked like the sideline. We ran into a buzzsaw. It was their night.”

The Anteaters went for the windpipe after that, never letting the Titans dream of their usual comebacks, running away to a 92-64 win that is the biggest margin of victory in any Big West final.

UC Irvine thus moves on to its second-ever NCAA Tournament and brings 30 wins and a 16-game winning streak. “I don’t think anybody is going to take us lightly,” Coach Russell Turner said.

The Anteaters probably won’t shoot 10 for 14 from the 3-point line, or 61.8 percent overall, but then they don’t have to. They squeezed the vise on CSF’s Khalil Ahmad, who was probably the best player in the tournament until Saturday, and held him to 1-for-9 shooting.

Defense, rebounding and depth aren’t variables for the Anteaters. Hazzard got 23 points, but so did redshirt freshman Collin Welp, who hadn’t scored more than 19. He was 5 for 5 in the second half, and when the clock got down to a minute, Welp held up his right hand and encircled his fourth finger, indicating where the ring should go.

Eight different Anteaters have been the high scorer this season. Hazzard was 0 for 5 on long shots Friday, 5 for 6 on Saturday. UCI rolled through this tournament without its point guard, Essayu Worku. It has not lost since Jan. 16 (at home to Long Beach State). And even though the Anteaters knew they would be slouching toward the NIT with a loss Saturday, all those milestones notwithstanding, they stared down the pressure and played as well as they ever have.

“I knew I had to chill out there,” Hazzard said, recalling that third 3-pointer, “but I always try to play with a lot of passion. I was having a lot of fun out there, felt like a kid again.”

UCI is the first Big West team to win 30 games since UNLV went 34-1 in 1991. It’s also the first Big West team to go 15-1 in league since Casper Ware and Long Beach State did it in 2012.

No league team has won an NCAA Tournament game since Hawai’i knocked off Cal in 2016, and no team had done it before that since Pacific beat Providence in 2004 and Pittsburgh in 2005.

Jerry Palm’s bracket, for what it’s worth, had UC Irvine seeded 12th and headed to San Jose to play Cincinnati in the first round. The Anteaters will be a fashionable upset pick, but Turner sometimes wonders what’s so upsetting about a 30-win team.

“The narrative we kept hearing is that anybody can win the Big West Tournament,” Turner said. “And we’ve heard a lot about us not being able to win this tournament.”

The Anteaters had lost the past two championship games.

“We did something special this year in the league, going 15-1, and we know that,” Turner said. “We kept hearing people say that everyone was equal, and we didn’t feel that was necessarily the case. We had established that during the season, especially on the road where we were undefeated, and we wanted to validate that in the tournament. Most of the speeches I’ve made to the team have ended with ‘Leave no doubt,’ although sometimes I add a word to that.”

If some of their players’ names are familiar, there’s a reason. Hazzard is Walt Hazzard’s grandson. Spencer Rivers’ dad is Doc. E.J. Butler’s dad is Caron, and Welp’s dad Christian is still the leading scorer in University of Washington history and also played in the NBA.

“I thought we were in a good spot to recruit the sons of NBA players here,” Turner said. “I like the challenge of basketball dads who look critically at how our program runs. I like that accountability. I’ve recruited some special and demanding families into this group. And I know how critically these players want to shine their own light.”

UC Irvine won’t be sneaking up behind anyone’s back this week. At the Honda Center, the Anteaters proved they could be bombers without stealth.

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Whicker: Cal State Fullerton’s seniority vs. UC Irvine’s gaudy record in Big West final

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Josh Pitts, right, shows his excitement as guard Jamal Smith draws a foul and scored a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, left, tries to drive toward the basket as Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr. defends during the first half of Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinal at Honda Center. Allman came up with several big defensive plays in the final minutes of the Titans’ 64-58 victory. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

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  • UC Santa Barbara guard Ar’Mond Davis, left, goes up for a basket under as Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr. slams a dunk during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad celebrates after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor gives instructions to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad, top, shoots over UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., center, drives hard around UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon, left, to put up a shot for the score late in the second half of the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, blocks the shot by UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Jamal Smith celebrates after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, right, runs into Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood and loses his footing in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, center, scores a basket around UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon, right, in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, blocks a shot in the lane by UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin to maintain the Titans’ lead during the final minutes of their Big West Tournament semifinal on Friday night at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • As UC Santa Barbara guard Ar’Mond Davis, left, reacts after the Gauchos turned over the ball to Cal State Fullerton, guard Landon Kirkwood, center, and forward Jackson Rowe, right, do a little celebrating in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara head coach Joe Pasternack yells instructions to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Fullerton at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, left, and Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, wait for the ball to come down for the rebound in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang reaches to control the rebound against Santa Barbara in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Davon Clare, center, moves toward the basket between UC Santa Barbara forward Robinson Idehen, left, and forward Jarriesse Blackmon, right, in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, right, scoops top a loose ball in front of UC Santa Barbara guard Sekou Toure in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara forward Amadou Sow hangs from the rim after a dunk, as Cal State Fullerton forward Josh Pitts, left, and forward Jackson Rowe stand nearby during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin, right, shoots over Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara forward Amadou Sow, left, shoots over Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad dunks with two seconds left for the final points of his team’s 64-58 victory over UC Santa Barbara in Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinal at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang, left, lets out a yell after the Titans scored to extend their lead over UC Santa Barbara with minutes left in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, left, and guard Austen Awosika, right, celebrate the Titans’ win over UC Santa Barbara in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad is being congratulated by the fans after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright grabs the rebound in front of Long Beach State center Temidayo Yussuf, center, as UC Irvine forward Elston Jones, left, reaches in during the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, right, goes up to the basket as UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, left, shoots in front of UC Irvine forward Elston Jones during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Evan Leonard, right, tries to block the shot by Long Beach State guard Drew Cobb during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Evan Leonard, center, goes up for a dunk next to Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine coach Russell Turner, center, reacts after a foul was called on the team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Long Beach State at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine forward Collin Welp, right, is fouled by Long Beach State forward KJ Byers during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine forward JC Butler, left, goes up to the basket as Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, center, drives through traffic to score in front of Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, right, during the second half of their Big West Tournament semifinal on Friday night at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, right, steals the ball from Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, back, tries to steal the ball from UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard, right, shoots over Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, center, shoots between UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, left, and forward Tommy Rutherford during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Long Beach State guard Drew Cobb can only watch as UC Irvine forward JC Butler controls the loose ball in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Long Beach State guard Drew Cobb, right, and UC Irvine forward JC Butler go after a loose ball in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward JC Butler, Long Beach State guard Drew Cobb and Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, from left, go after a loose ball in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Elston Jones, right, keeps the ball away from Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, left, and another Long Beach State player in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford, center, muscles his way past Long Beach State forward KJ Byers, left, and forward Mason Riggins, right, to score a basket in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Long Beach State center Temidayo Yussuf, right, protects a rebound from UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway, center, gets to the rebound before Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, left, and guard Deishuan Booker, right, in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway gestures after scoring during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Long Beach State at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford, left, tries to block a shot by Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine players cheer their team on as they score another basket with seconds left in their Big West Tournament semifinal victory over rival Long Beach State on Friday night at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, left, wipes his face with a towel as the team plays the final minutes of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Irvine at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. UC Irvine won 75-67. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

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ANAHEIM — As a freshman, Kyle Allman Jr. averaged 5.3 points. Khalil Ahmad averaged 14.3. Jamal Smith averaged as many calories as he could amass, as a redshirt.

Dedrique Taylor, Cal State Fullerton’s coach, was in his third year, but it seemed like every minute was a do-over, a disheartening trip back to the starting blocks. He won 10 games in that 2015-16 season, giving him a total of 30 and an average of 10.

On Friday night at Honda Center, the Titans put together a 24-10 run, caught and passed UC Santa Barbara, and won their fifth consecutive Big West Tournament game 64-58.

On Saturday night they play UC Irvine, the top seed, in hopes of a second consecutive title.

“I looked out there and I saw guys that looked nothing they did back then,” Taylor said. “Back then they didn’t have facial hair, they were uglier than ever. Now they’re muscular, they’re physically mature, and you have to credit their experience, their belief. I think tonight we managed to impose our will.”

The third-seeded Titans squared their record at 16-16 thanks to smothering defense at the end. Second-seeded UCSB missed its final 10 field-goal attempts and didn’t have a basket in the last 7:07.

Allman blocked his 11th and 12th shots of the season, Jackson Rowe added another rejection, and Smith was the point of the spear, taking charges, making steals and influencing a game while only taking (and making) one shot.

The Titans are embracing seniors like Allman, Smith and Ahmad because they’ll have to let go of them, whenever this team loses.

“They’ve changed the face of this basketball program,” Taylor said.

“We talked last night about how we know we’ve only got a couple of games left together,” Ahmad said, “and we don’t want it to end soon.”

Ahmad has 60 points in these two tournament games and 1,714 overall. Allman, the all-time CSF leader in games played, has 1,617 points.

And Taylor shook his head when someone cited the accumulated minutes. Ahmad played 39 Friday, 43 in Thursday’s overtime win over UC Davis. Allman played 40 Friday, 43 Saturday.

“If I was out there playing, I might be concerned about minutes,” Taylor said. “These guys are 21, 22 years old. It’s go time.”

UCI beat Fullerton by seven at home and by 17 on the road this season, but in last year’s final the Titans dominated 71-55.

This UCI team (29-5) is plus-7.5 in rebounds-per-game, which might be the main reason it has a 15-game winning streak and is on the cusp of becoming the first 30-game winner in the Big West since UNLV’s 34-1 NCAA semifinal loser in 1991.

It was the proximate cause of its 75-67 semifinal win over a Long Beach State team that came in with six consecutive victories and the only Big West win over the Anteaters all season.

UCI won the boards 21-11 in the second half, which led to a 16-4 edge, overall, in second-chance points. Once the Anteaters decided to drive the ball on a night when they went 2 for 12 from deep, the formula kicked in.

But it is really hatched on the Bren Center floor, every other day in practice, when Coach Russell Turner calls for the 2-on-2 rebounding drill.

“Two big guys, two little guys, all of them blocking each other out,” Turner said. “No out of bounds, no fouls.”

“Love that drill,” guard Robert Cartwright said, rolling his eyes.

“And we got a lot of big guys,” guard Evan Leonard said, smiling wearily.

“A lot of Hall of Fame coaches have used it, it’s been around a long time,” Turner said. “I love it. It’s a chance for us to embrace our physicality.”

Jonathan Galloway, Tommy Rutherford and Elston Jones swallowed up 19 of those rebounds, and the Anteaters physicaled their way to a 48-34 second half. They also managed to get through the 49ers’ press, replacing their turnovers with 2-on-1 breaks and dunks. But it was a nervous night for the Anteaters, who trailed by seven early in the second half and, at times, were exhibiting the thousand-yard-stare of a favorite on the defensive.

Cartwright’s career-high 17-point night, built mostly on drives, solved much of that. But the Anteaters could have used the quickness and playmaking of Eyassu Worku, who missed the game with a leg injury.

“He’s playing tomorrow night,” Turner said. “We didn’t want him to play back to back. And I wanted to make sure he played in the final. So it was a gamble that could have easily not paid off, not playing him tonight.

“His speed and decision-making ability are critical. He gives us another speed handler. And not having him also takes away an opportunity to give our guys some rest. We played Rob (Cartwright) 35 minutes. He’s got great natural energy, and he wasn’t just settling for jump shots tonight. I’m of the opinion he can handle those minutes, plus whatever we can get out of it tomorrow.”

He was referring to Saturday, the first time that one of these days won’t have a tomorrow.

—- BIG WEST TOURNAMENT —-

No. 1 seed UC IRVINE (29-5) vs. No. 3 Cal State Fullerton (16-16)

Championship game

When: Saturday, 9 p.m.

Where: Honda Center

TV: ESPN2

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