ANAHEIM, CA-UC Irvine wasted little time in establishing who was the better team in its Big West Tournament title game matchup against Cal State Fullerton. The Anteaters would follow through from beginning to the end in routing the Titans, 92-64 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
UC Irvine (30-5) now advances to the NCAA Tournament where the Anteaters will play the Kansas State Wildcats (25-8).
“I could not be any prouder of my team tonight for this performance,” said UC Irvine coach Russell Turner. “Still, I am not surprised by tonight’s outcome, I felt before the game that we had a chance to have a special performance and I credit our whole team for that, but especially these two leaders [Jonathon Galloway and Max Hazzard] on the podium with me. They were both outstanding and their focus and their intent on performing and the competitive greatness that happened was led by guys like this so I am just really proud of the team.”
With the win against Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine becomes the first school in the Big West Conference to hit the 30-win mark in a season since the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels did it back during the 1990-1991 season. The Anteaters are on a 16-game winning streak, the longest by a Big West Conference school since the 2004-05 season. UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard was named the tournament’s MVP.
“It doesn’t feel as good as winning,” Hazzard said. “The last two years we lost and came up short in the championship, so it was really about that and the MVP could have gone to anybody on this team. I’m just really happy to be a part of something bigger than myself and I’m blessed to be here with these guys and they have a lot of belief in me and I have a lot of belief in them.”
UC Irvine dominated the first half of the ballgame, taking a 42-24 lead into the locker room. The Anteaters shot a whopping 57 percent from the field in building their big advantage. UC Irvine would finish the game shooting 61 percent from the field, including making 10 of its 14 shots from beyond the arc.
“Congratulations to UC Irvine, they deserved it. They came out and played exceptionally well last night, but I want to focus on my group,” Cal State Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor said. “You can’t say enough about Khalil Ahmad and Kyle Allman Jr. They have completely changed the face of Titan basketball forever, their legacy will be etched in history and I couldn’t be more proud of what they’ve done for our program… the young men that they are. I’m super excited to see what their next role will be in life.”