UC Irvine will learn its first-round opponent Sunday for its second appearance in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, thanks to a record-setting performance in the Big West Conference Tournament final.
A public viewing party of CBS’ tournament selection show will begin at 2 p.m. at UC Irvine’s Newkirk Alumni Center, with the show beginning at 3 p.m.
The NCAA Evaluation Tool will be the used for the first time to determine the selection and seedings of the 68 tournament teams. The NET includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin — capped at 10 points per game — and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
The Anteaters were 73rd in the NET rankings through Friday’s games. Among the 26 teams assured of NCAA tournament berths, 14 have lower NET ratings than UC Irvine.
Joe Lunardi of ESPN projects that UC Irvine will receive the No. 13 seed in the West Regional and face fourth-seeded Virginia Tech at San Jose Friday. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports projects the Anteaters will receive the No. 12 seed in the South Regional and face fifth-seeded Cincinnati at San Jose Friday.
UC Irvine assured itself of a tournament berth with a 92-64 victory over Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Conference Tournament final Saturday night, almost certainly one of just two California teams in the tournament. The other is Saint Mary’s, the West Coast Conference tournament.
The Anteaters trailed twice, 2-0 and 4-2, then scored 11 consecutive points, with redshirt junior guard Max Hazzard making three consecutive 3-point baskets, to take the lead for good.
UC Irvine led 42-24 at halftime and held its biggest lead, 75-43, with nine minutes, 39 seconds left en route to the most one-sided victory in a Big West Conference Tournament final. The previous record was 25 points, set by UNLV in a 94-69 victory over San Jose State in 1987.
The tournament has been played annually since 1976.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of my team and their performance. I’ll say I’m not surprised by tonight’s outcome. I felt before the game we had a chance for a special performance.
“I credit the whole team but especially these two seniors,” Anteaters coach Russell Turner said, referring to Hazzard and forward Jonathan Galloway, who were seated next to him for the postgame news conference. “They were both outstanding in their focus and intent in their performance. Competitive greatness can happen when you’re led by guys like this.”
UC Irvine also set the Big West Conference Tournament final record for 3-point shooting percentage at .714, making 10 of 14, with Hazzard making five of six.
Hazzard and redshirt freshman forward Collin Welp each scored 23 points to lead four Anteaters in double figures. Guards Robert Cartwright and Evan Leonard each added 10 for UC Irvine.
Hazzard was selected as the tournament’s MVP. Welp and Leonard were chosen to the all-tournament team as the Anteaters extended their school-record winning streak to 16 games and improved to 30-5, increasing its school record for victories in a season.
The victory avenged UC Irvine’s 71-55 loss to the Titans in last year’s Big West Conference Tournament final. The Anteaters are 2-6 in Big West Conference Tournament finals, including the loss in 2017.
Senior guard Kyle Allman Jr. scored 16 points to lead four players in double figures for Cal State Fullerton (16-17) before a crowd at Honda Center announced at 5,867.
Hazzard and Welp are among four UC Irvine players whose fathers or grandfathers played in the NBA.
Hazzard is a grandson of the late Walt Hazzard, who played 10 seasons in the NBA, including the first three with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Welp’s late father Chris played three seasons in the NBA after being Washington’s career scoring leader. Following his NBA career, the elder Welp played seven seasons in Germany and one each in Greece and Italy. He died in 2015 at the age of 51 from an apparent heart attack.
Redshirt senior guard Spencer Rivers is a son of Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who played 13 seasons in the NBA. Freshman forward JC Butler is a son of Caron Butler, who played 14 seasons in the NBA, including one with the Lakers and two with the Clippers.
UC Irvine’s other NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament appearance was in 2015 when it was the 13th seed in the East Regional and lost to fourth-seeded Louisville, 57-55, in a game the Anteaters led in the final minute.
UC Irvine opened in 1965 and began competing on the Division I level in 1977. It twice qualified for the Division II tournament.
The Anteaters are among four NCAA Division I teams with 30 victories, along with Houston, Gonzaga and Buffalo.
“I don’t think anyone is going to take us lightly when we have 30 wins next to our name,” Turner said. “This team has special qualities.”