March 14, 2008
Anaheim, Calif. - Center Darren Fells scored 14 points and guard Patrick Rembert added 12 for the fifth-seeded UC Irvine men's basketball team, which advanced to championship game of Big West Conference Tournament for the first time since 1994 with a 55-50 elimination of No. 1 UC Santa Barbara (23-8) Friday evening at the Anaheim Convention Center.
With the victory, UC Irvine (18-15) became the first program since Cal State Northridge in 2004 to reach the Big West Tournament championship game after winning three games in three days. The Anteaters are also the lowest-seeded team since the Matadors to qualify for the title game.
UC Irvine led the game wire-to-wire, but never by more than nine points at any stretch. Up 24-17 at halftime, the Anteaters held a 37-27 advantage with nine-and-a-half minutes to play before an 18-9 run by the Gauchos cut their deficit to 46-45. UCI would hold strong as the Anteaters sunk seven of eight free throws, including a clutch 5-of-6 effort from freshman Patrick Rembert, and failed to miss a field goal attempt down the stretch to secure the victory.
UCSB had its last chance to tie the game with less than a half minute to play. With 25 seconds left and his team leading 52-50, Rembert was fouled by Paul Roemer. He made the first free throw to improve to 5-for-5 and make the score 53-50, but missed the second. After a Nedim Pajevic rebound, the Gauchos called timeout with just over 12 seconds to play. Out of the timeout, Santa Barbara ran a play for Harris, who attempted a three-pointer from the top of the key. The shot went awry. Sanders made a pair of free throws with 2.5 second left to complete the scoring.The Gauchos shot a season-low 31.9% overall, and made just 16 out of their 29 free throw attempts, 55.2%.
"Two things that we have done well all season did not work for us tonight," began UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "We just couldn't get the ball to fall, from the field or the line. We were one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country for much of the year. It's tough to explain, and tough to accept, but tonight those shots just didn't go in for us."
Anteaters guard Marcus McIntosh added 11 points while forward Patrick Sanders snared 10 rebounds - all at the defensive end - for UC Irvine, which went 3-0 against UC Santa Barbara this year.
UC Santa Barbara (23-8) received a game-high 17 points from 2007-08 Big West Co-Player of the Year Alex Harris, the only Gaucho to surpass double figures. Junior forward Chris Devine had eigh tpoints, on 4-of-7 shooting, and a season-high 11 rebounds, but he fouled out with about five minutes to play. Reserve guard D.J. Posley had just four points, but his career-high six steals spurred a defensive charge by the Gauchos that got them back into the game. They had 14 steals as a team, tying their season-high, and forced UCI into 23 turnovers.
On Sunday, the Gauchos will accept a bid to play in the National Invitation Tournament, their first postseason bid of any kind since the 2002-03 season when they played at San Diego State in the NIT.