UC Irvine received the No. 13 seed in the South Region Sunday and will face fourth-seeded Kansas State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament in San Jose.
Kansas State (25-8) was the regular-season co-champion of the Big 12 Conference with Texas Tech and was upset by Iowa State, 63-59, in the semifinals of the conference tournament Friday night.
UC Irvine qualified for the tournament for the second time with a 92-64 victory over Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Conference Tournament final Saturday night, extending a school-record winning streak to 16 games and improving to 30-5, increasing its school record for victories in a season.
The Anteaters are among five NCAA Division I teams with 30 or more victories, along with Houston, Gonzaga, Buffalo and New Mexico State. Their .857 winning percentage is 10th in Division I.
“I don’t think anyone is going to take us lightly when we have 30 wins next to our name,” UC Irvine coach Russell Turner said after Saturday’s game. “This team has special qualities.”
Redshirt junior guard Max Hazzard leads the Anteaters in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game. He was selected as the MVP of the Big West Conference Tournament after scoring a game-high equaling 23 points, making five of six 3-point shots.
Hazzard is among four UC Irvine players whose fathers or grandfathers played in the NBA. He is a grandson of the late Walt Hazzard, who played 10 seasons in the NBA, including the first three with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Redshirt freshman forward Collin 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.
Welp scored a season-high 23 points in 22 minutes off the bench Saturday and was chosen for the all-tournament team along with Anteaters junior guard Evan Leonard.
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.
Guard Barry Brown is Kansas State’s leading scorer, averaging 14.9 points per game. The Wildcats starting front line consists of 6-foot-10-inch Dean Wade, their No. 2 scorer, averaging 12.9 points per game, 6-foot-9-inch Makol Mawien and 6-foot-5-inch Xavier Sneed.
The Anteaters customarily start three guards — Hazzard, who is 5 feet, 10 inches tall, Leonard, who is 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and Eyassu Worku, who is 6 feet, 2 inches tall.
Jonathan Galloway is UC Irvine’s tallest starter at 6 feet, 10 inches. The Anteaters other starter is 6-foot-8 inch forward Tommy Rutherford.
UC Irvine lost to Kansas State, 71-49, on Nov. 17, 2017 in Manhattan, Kansas as part of the Continental Tires Las Vegas Invitational. All 10 starters from that game remain with their teams.
The teams have two common opponents — Denver and Texas A&M.
UC Irvine was a 74-73 winner at Texas A&M Nov. 9 and defeated Denver, 86-52, Dec. 15 at the Bren Events Center in Irvine.
Kansas State defeated Denver, 64-56, Nov. 12 at home, and lost to Texas A&M, 65-53, Jan. 26, in a Big 12/SEC Challenge game at College Station, Texas.
The Wildcats advanced to last season’s South Regional final as a No. 9 seed, but lost to 11th-seeded Loyola of Chicago, 78-62.
The No. 4 seed is 108-28 against the No. 13 seed since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Two of the No. 13 seeds in the 2018 tournament won their first-round games, Buffalo and Marshall.
UC Irvine is one of just two California teams in the tournament. The other is Saint Mary’s, the West Coast Conference Tournament champion.
The Anteaters other NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament appearance was in 2015 when they were the 13th seed in the East Regional and lost to fourth-seeded Louisville, 57-55, in a game UC Irvine 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.
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