ANAHEIM — This was not the kind of history UC Irvine had in mind. But for the first time in 39 Big West Conference men's basketball tournaments, the Anteaters became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 7 seed.
The 61-58 setback to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo ended the Anteaters' hopes of making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. UCI (23-11), will instead compete in the National Invitational Tournament for the first time since 2002.
Information on UCI's NIT pairing will be available Sunday or Monday, a UCI athletic department spokesperson said.
Cal Poly, which lost nine of its final 11 regular-season games and had been beaten twice by UCI in their previous two meetings, shot 47.6% in the second half and committed just six turnovers to pull off an upset for the second straight night.
The Mustangs (12-19) hammered No. 2-seeded UC Santa Barbara, 69-38, in Thursday's quarterfinals.
After Cal Poly broke a 29-29 tie with 1:20 left in the first half, the Mustangs did not trail again. Coach Joe Callero's squad led by as many as 10 early in the second half, but UCI closed to within 56-55 on a Will Davis layup with 2:13 left to set the stage for a dramatic finish.
Cal Poly senior Guard Kyle Odister nailed a 24-foot three-pointer with 1:36 remaining to extend the lead and, after UCI freshman guard Luke Nelson had an entry pass intercepted for a turnover, Mustangs' sophomore David Nwaba netted both ends of a one-and-one free-throw situation to up the lead to 61-55 with 1:07 left.
UCI sophomore Alex Young drained a three-pointer with 48 seconds left to make it a one-possession game and sophomore Dominique Dunning forced a jump ball that gave UCI the ball on alternating possession with 37 seconds remaining.
But Young then missed an awkward driving layup attempt and fouled Cal Poly senior forward Chris Eversley immediately after Eversley collected the rebound.
Eversley, who along with Nwaba led the winners with 14 points, missed the front end of the one-and-one situation and UCI had possession with a chance to pull even with a three-pointer.
Chris McNealy, UCI's lone senior and the Anteaters' only first-team all-conference honoree, pulled up for an open three-point attempt from the top of the arc, but missed. Young led a host of players to the rebound and appeared to be pushed out of bounds from behind while launching the ball out of bounds to try to prompt a shooting foul. But no foul was called and a video review by officials reversed the initial call that had given UCI possession.
With four seconds left, Cal Poly threw a high inbound pass to near midcourt, where Eversley won the battle with a leaping Dunning for possession. But Eversley lost control of the ball on the way down and was called for traveling.
After a timeout, UCI Coach Russell Turner called for the Anteaters to catch-and-shoot on the ensuing inbounds play. Luke Nelson, the Big West Freshman of the Year who came in averaging a team-best 11.9 points per game, made a turnaround three-point try from the left wing that failed to draw iron.
Cal Poly's Joel Awich caught the rebound as time expired.
"I thought it was a really good college basketball game that was played at a high level and I'm disappointed that we lost," said Turner, who saw UCI lose in the semifinals for the second of two times it has entered the tournament as the top seed (2001 was the other). "I also give Cal Poly credit. [The Mustangs] were really good tonight and they beat us."
Ironically, UCI made the Big West Tournament final last season as the No. 7 seed, before falling to Pacific and going to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
But UCI, which is two wins shy of the program's single-season record set in 2000-01, will now settle for another consolation postseason appearance.
"We know we're going to play in the NIT and we are going to be excited to continue to compete," Turner said.
UCI's vaunted defense — since Feb. 1, it had held opponents to an NCAA-low field-goal percentage — was less so against the Mustangs, who had five players make at least half of their field-goal tries.
"I thought they did a better job attacking our zone," Turner said after the Mustangs made five of 11 three-point attempts. "And we haven't had a lot of teams score over us [in the paint] the way Cal Poly did tonight. That's probably why they won."
Cal Poly also had a 16-3 advantage on points off turnovers, as UCI committed twice as many miscues (12).
UCI, which made four of five three-pointers in the first half, was one for nine from beyond the arc after intermission.
Davis led UCI with 18 points and nine rebounds and was nine for 14 from the field.
Young had 12 points and three assists, while Nelson had six points and five assists.
Big West Conference Tournament
Cal Poly 61, UC Irvine 58
CPSLO – Eversley 14, Awich 6, Nwaba 14, Odister 9, Johnson 0, Bennett 12, Shipley 3, Bolden 3.
3-pt. goals – Odister 3, Shipley 1, Ridge 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Davis 18, Ndiaye 7, Young 12, McNealy 6, Nelson 6, Wright 4, Souza 3, Dunning 2.
3-pt. goals – Young 2, Nelson 2, Souza 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – CPSLO, 31-29.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun