May 29, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Top-seeded UCI advances to semifinals of Big West Tourney with 63-44 victory over UCR

UCI’s Max Hazzard looks to pass off during Thursday’s game against UC Riverside (Photo: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

UC Irvine’s men’s basketball team took the first step toward securing the program’s second trip to the NCAA Tournament, defeating UC Riverside 63-44 Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Big West Tournament at Honda Center.

The top-seeded Anteaters won their 14th game in a row and captured their 28th game of the year, tying a school record. The 2015-16 team was 28-10.

UCI (28-5) faces Long Beach State Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Cal State Fullerton faces UC Santa Barbara in the other semifinal at 9 p.m.

The championship game is Saturday at 9 p.m. at Honda Center. (For updates from the Big West Tournament, please click here)

Colin Welp scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard scored 13 points each for UCI.

The Anteaters led 33-22 at halftime and extended the margin to 25 points in the second half.

Eighth-seeded UC Riverside (10-23) was led by Jordan Gilliam with 11 points.

“We have the ability to frustrate teams and make it hard for their best player and our team did a great job of that tonight,” said UCI Coach Russell Turner.

UCI made 41.4 percent of its field goal attempts and the Anteaters tough defense made it tough for UCI, which connected on just 31.5 percent.

UCI also outrebounded Riverside 40-35.

Turner liked a lot about the way the Anteaters played.

“I’m proud of our overall performance tonight,” he said. “It wasn’t a pretty game, but it’s sort of how we pride ourselves defensively. We shut them down for multiple periods of that game and wore them out. Our scoring was balanced and we took care of the ball.”

UCI had only five turnovers and forced 11 by UC Riverside.

It was UCI’s third convincing victory over UCR this year.

“Like coach said, we had an opportunity to play college basketball tonight and that’s enough for us,” said Hazzard, when asked if it was tough to stay focused playing a team the third time. “The goal is to win three games in three days and regardless of who’s in the way, we’re going to focus on the game tonight.”

Turner held out two of the Anteaters regulars Eyassu Worku and John Edgar Jr. Worku is out with a minor injury.

“I made the decision to keep them out,” he said. “That’s a daily decision that I’m faced with and communicate with them.”

To read more about the Anteaters, please click here

Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com