Big West Tournament: UC Irvine Beats UC Santa Barbara in Quarterfinals
The third time was the charm for the UC Irvine men’s basketball team in its quarterfinals match against UC Santa Barbara on Thursday night.
Having lost to the Gauchos twice in the regular season, the Anteaters used a swarming defense and a flurry of three-point shooting, to build a 24-point lead and defeated Santa Barbara 70-52, advancing to the semifinals of the Big West Tournament to take on Long Beach State.
Senior forward Mark Kelley asserted himself in the post early in the game, scoring six straight points to give UCI a 13-7 lead.
While the Gauchos struggled to score from the field, junior forward Patrick Sanders helped expand UCI’s lead to 22-9 with a put back dunk off a miss by freshman guard Michael Hunter.
Junior guard Chuma Awaji and junior forward Darren Fells each converted on layups in the final seconds of the first half to give UCI the 28-18 halftime lead.
In the second half, senior forward Nic Campbell and freshman guard Michael Hunter came out on fire and put the game out of reach.
Campbell (three) and Hunter (two) combined to hit five three-pointers to begin the half to push a 28-18 halftime lead to a 43-26 advantage.
UCI increased the lead to 63-39 with six minutes remaining in the game and never looked back.
‘I thought we had a better collective effort on offense and defense than in our previous two meetings with UC Santa Barbara,’ said UCI Head Coach Pat Douglass. ‘We brought a lot of energy against a team that’s been a tough squad for us. They beat us twice during the regular season so there was an incentive for our guys to play well tonight.’
Hunter scored a team-high 16 points, Kelley added 15 points and Campbell scored 12 for UCI in the win.
‘By far, Michael Hunter’s performance tonight was one of his better games and being a freshman it’s difficult to perform in this type of stage being a lead guard,’ Douglass said.
UCI held the Gauchos to just 31.6 percent shooting from the field and shut down UCSB’s second scoring option Cecil Brown, who finished with just three points on 1-7 shooting from the field.
Earlier in the year, Brown scored 23 points against the Anteaters, including 10 straight in the last five minutes of the game to give UCSB a 71-62 win.