An exciting season for the UC Irvine men’s basketball team came to an end at the hands of Saint Methodist University, as the Mustangs edged out the Anteaters 68-54 in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament on March 19th in Dallas. Wednesday night marked the fifth time that Anteaters have played in the NIT, with their last appearance taking place in 2002 in a first round loss to BYU.
UC Irvine entered halftime nursing a 30-29 lead as Luke Nelson and Chris McNealy combined for 15 points in the first 20 minutes. The first seeded Mustangs came roaring out of halftime with a 19-9 run, to put them ahead 48-39 with 10:30 to go.
The Anteaters spent the remainder of the half battling back from what was often a 10 point deficit and coming a close 52-58 off of two free throws by Mamadou Ndiyae with a little over three minutes remaining, but ultimately the lead proved too much to overcome.
UCI’s bid in the NIT came about as a result of their regular season championship and failure to advance to the NCAA Division I Tournament through the Big West Tournament. UC Irvine’s Big West Regular Season title is the program’s third in history and first in over 12 years.
The Anteaters cruised to the semi-finals of the Big West Tournament by defeating UC Riverside 63-43 and holding the Highlanders down to a mere three field goals in the finals 10:51 of regulation. Unfortunately, the tournament favorites would be upset by eventual winner Cal Poly in the semi-finals 58-61 on 45.1 percent shooting from the field; the most Irvine has allowed since UCSB shot 49 percent against the ’Eaters on Jan. 3.
Several accolades were awarded to the players on the men’s team, with the lone senior Chris McNealy being named to the All-Big West First Team, Luke Nelson as the Big West Freshman of the Year, and Mamadou Ndiaye as the Big West’s Best Defensive Player.
Head coach Russell Turner was acknowledged as the Big West Coach of the Year and the NABC District 9 Coach of the Year. Under his guidance, the Anteaters have had two consecutive 20-win seasons and a total of 44 wins in the previous two years.
The men’s team ended the season with an overall record of 23-12, tied for the second most wins in the school’s history.
Not to be outdone by their male counterparts, the Lady Anteaters also enjoyed a remarkable season in which they shattered expectations and broke records.
Entering the Big West Tournament as the fourth seed, UC Irvine advanced to the semifinals in a thrilling 74-70 overtime win that saw 13 ties and 16 lead changes against fifth seed UC Davis on March 12.
With the score tied at 66-66 and 1:38 left in the second half, Lauren Beyer seemed to have clinched the Aggies a ticket to the semifinals with a layup that put UC Davis ahead at 68-66 with nine seconds left on the clock. The tension in the building was heightened, as following the basket, both teams proceeded to each take a 30-second timeout as their seasons hung in the balance.
Seemingly unfazed by the pressure, Jennifer Tsuromoto rose to the occasion, driving to the basket and scoring with two seconds left to force overtime. The Anteaters would make 4-6 free throws to secure the win and advance.
UC Irvine’s victory snaps the women’s team’s streak of losing in the opening round of the last seven Big West Tournaments they have entered, with the last victory coming in 2005, a 75-63 victory over Utah State.
Just like the men’s team, the Lady Anteaters run in the Big West Tournament also ended in the semifinals, coming at the hands of a 60-78 loss to first seeded Cal State Northridge. Despite senior Jennifer Tsuromoto leading with 17 points with Camille Buckley posting yet another double double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, there was little the Anteaters could do to stop the offense of the Matadors whom were a deadly 48.3 percent from the field.
For her performance in the tournament, senior forward CaCamille Buckley was named to the Big West All-Tournament team and her 34 point performance against UC Davis was a tournament high.
UC Irvine ended their season with an overall record of 17-15, the second most wins garnered in a season since 1994-1995. The Lady Anteaters’ heart and grit defied all naysayers throughout the season, as they were predicted to come into the Big West Tournament as the 8th seed.
On the team, Buckley was named to the All Big West First Team, while Tsuromoto received an honorable mention. With 6 seniors making up the core of 9 active players, the Lady Anteaters will look to begin rebuilding next year.