Cinderella’s slipper didn’t fit UC Irvine Basketball this year, thanks to a last-minute steal.
Louisville’s Terry Rozier stole the ball from UC Irvine as the Anteaters were setting up for a last shot to either tie or win. The steal sealed the 57-55 victory for the Cardinals (24-8) and deprived UC Irvine of an epic NCAA tournament upset.
Sports Illustrated is reporting that UC Irvine held a late two-point lead with 62 seconds left, which they increased to four with a shot made by Luke Nelson inside one minute. However, Louisville was able to tie the game at 55 when Nelson tried to hold the ball for a last-second three-point shot that clanged off the rim into the arms of Cardinals freshman Quentin Snider, who was then fouled. Snider hit both free throws, setting up the last second steal by Rozier.
For the Cardinals, Wayne Blackshear scored 19 points, with Snider adding 16 and Rozier contributing 12. UC Irvine’s biggest big man, 7 foot 6 inch center Mamadou Ndiaye, scored 12 points, collected five rebounds, one blocked shot, one steal, and quickly became a crowd favorite with his enthusiastic dunks, all the while befuddling Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell and keeping him in check (8 points, four rebounds).
UC Irvine, the number 13 seed in the West regional in Seattle, Washington, made its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history.
The Orange County Register reports that UC Irvine’s basketball program earned its first NCAA tournament bid by winning the Big West Conference tournament for the first time ever. The conference winner gets an automatic berth in the yearly tournament. UC Irvine (21-12) received the automatic bid by defeating Hawaii, 67-58, in the Big West Championship game.
UC Irvine, ranked third in the Big West Tournament, started by defeating UC Riverside, ranked 6th in the Big West tournament, 63-54. In the semifinals, UC Irvine defeated second-seeded UC Santa Barbara 72-63 in overtime to advance to the championship game against Hawaii. Hawaii, ranked fifth in the tournament, defeated fourth-seeded Long Beach State 79-72, then beat top-ranked UC Davis 65-58.
Louisville is beginning to put the pieces back together after a rather tumultuous regular season. Coach Rick Pitino’s program was rocked when Chris Jones was dismissed from the Louisville program for missing curfew after a game against Miami. Soon after, Jones was accused of rape and sodomy of two women in private off-campus apartment. Two other men were charged along with Jones. All three waived hearings, so a grand jury will decide if a trial is warranted.
The wagons were being circled, and UC Irvine was primed to assist in the upset, if not for that last steal.
[Image courtesy of www.cleveland.com]