Saturday, March 14, 2015

UC Irvine: 2014-15 Big West Men's Basketball Champions


ANAHEIM, Calif. >> The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors could not close the deal on UC Irvine and the Big West Conference tournament.
UH led for the whole first half and was even with the Anteaters through 30 minutes of play but third-seeded UCI pulled away late to defeat UH 67-58 on Saturday night at the Honda Center.
Now the Rainbows (22-13) wait to hear if they will play in a postseason tournament like the NIT or CIT, or if their season is over.
The Honda crowd of about 3,000 was comprised about two-thirds of UCI fans, but UH had vocal support as well.
Guard Luke Nelson led the second-half Anteater comeback with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
For UH, forward Aaron Valdes scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half. Garrett Nevels scored 14 on 6-for-12 shooting.
UH was swept by UCI home-and-home during the regular season, and the Anteaters did it without their 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in college basketball. This time Ndiaye was an imposing presence in the paint.
An early 13-point lead dwindled to two in the final minute of the first half. UH settled for a four-point halftime advantage -- which disappeared immediately to start the second period.
The teams battled evenly through the first 10 minutes of the second half. Irvine claimed its first lead, 42-40, on a short hook shot by Ioannis Dimakopoulos.
Point guard Roderick Bobbitt picked UCI's pocket in the open court -- his 100th steal of the season -- and took it in for a layup to tie it back up. Isaac Fleming followed with a strong take as recaptured the lead, 45-43.
Mike Thomas sank a 17-footer from the baseline for a 47-44 UH advantage. But the Anteaters then rolled off eight straight points to take a 52-47 lead.
Valdes ended the run with a deep 3-pointer from the wing to cut it to 52-50 with three minutes left. But it was just about all UCI from there.
UH scorched the nets for the first seven minutes of the game, jumping out to a 20-7 start by hitting on four of five 3-pointers, similar to what the Rainbows did in their semifinal win over top-seeded UC Davis.
Alex Young sank a pull-up jumper to cut it to 31-29.
Valdes hit a tough runner to make it 33-29 and Jankovic stripped Will Davis II at the other end to preserve the four-point halftime lead.
Valdes had 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and five rebounds in the period. 
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