The journey towards a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance begins tomorrow night at the Honda Center as the second seeded UC Irvine men’s basketball team are set to face the seventh seeded Cal Poly at the 6:00 p.m. time slot.
Earlier this week, the ‘Eaters received multiple nods from the Big West conference for their performance in the regular season. Junior center Mamadou Ndiaye, who averaged 12.5 points and 7.2 rebounds a game this season, won his second Big West Defensive Player of the Year award in his three years at UCI. Ndiaye also became UCI’s all time leader in blocks, surpassing Will Davis II’s feat of 208. Along with Ndiaye, junior guard Luke Nelson was also named to the All Big West First team, averaging 13.3 points and 4.1 assists per game. Senior point guard Alex Young, UCI’s all time leader in assists, was named to the All Big West second team, averaging 10 points and 4.4 assists per game.
Head coach Russell Turner’s squad earned their fourth consecutive 20 win season and tied for the second most wins in program history with 24. The ‘Eaters led the Big West this season in field goal percentage (48.2 percent), field goal percentage defense (38.6 percent), three point percentage (40.4 percent), assists per game (15.4), and blocks per game (5.6).
Tomorrow night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, the ‘Eaters will open up against a Cal Poly team they had just defeated the week before by a score of 76-66 on Senior Night. UCI earned the series sweep against the Mustangs starting with a 78-72 overtime victory on the road on Feb. 3. It took a perfectly drawn up play by coach Turner to find a wide open three from junior guard Jaron Martin to force overtime in San Luis Obispo. The ‘Eaters would go on to win the game by outscoring the Mustangs 15-9 in overtime. Irvine would win the second encounter in the Bren Events Center behind a 65 percent field goal percentage in the second half of the game against the Mustangs.
Last time the ‘Eaters met the Mustangs in the Big West tournament was in 2014, where the Mustangs would upset the then number one seeded ‘Eaters and go on to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
If the ‘Eaters were to defeat the Mustangs tomorrow night, they would face the winner of Long Beach State and UC Riverside, teams they both swept in the regular season series. All games of the Big West Tournament will be televised with the first round being on Prime Ticket, the second round being on ESPNU/ESPN3, and the championship game being showcased on ESPN2.