UC Irvine was considered perhaps the toughest first-round draw possible — for anybody, but particularly Hawaii — in the 2018 Big West tournament.
As luck had it, Irvine lost to UC Davis in double-overtime in their regular-season finale, swinging the season title to the Aggies and knocking the Anteaters down to third, and into a quarterfinal matchup with the sixth-place Rainbow Warriors.
The Anteaters (16-16) defend at an elite level. Hawaii (17-12) generally defends well, but not nearly as consistently (as seen in their 8-8 BWC record, and 1-1 performance against everybody). And neither UCI nor UH showed the ability to light people up on offense for more than the occasional stretch.
So, expect an ugly, grind-it-out game that UH can take if it can match UCI’s physicality without picking up silly fouls. Mike Thomas, Gibson Johnson and Jack Purchase will have their hands full getting around two-time defensive player of the year Jonathan Galloway and the rest of the Irvine bigs. A tough task, but doable. Tipoff is 6 p.m. at the Honda Center (4 p.m. Hawaii time).
The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Prime Ticket, like the other three Big West quarterfinals. However — and I realize this is maddening — the UH-UCI game is being tape-delayed. (I know, I know, who still does that?) Well, you have a couple of options to catch the game live. On a desktop or laptop computer, you can go to the Fox Sports Go website and login with a cable subscription. Or, on phone or tablet, use the Fox Sports Go app. And, of course, there’s always KKEA, 1420-AM for either web streaming or live radio.
UCI, which is 2-0 against UH in Big West tournaments (2013 first round and 2015 title game), is favored by four. If UH were to win, as of right now, it would get top-seeded Davis in Friday’s semifinals because of the reseeding process, matching highest and lowest remaining seeds. That’s unless No. 7 Cal Poly also knocks off No. 2 UC Santa Barbara in the nightcap.
Look for point guard Drew Buggs to come out with a chip following his BWC freshman of the year snub in favor of Cal State Northridge’s Terrell Gomez. (Meanwhile, over at Northridge, things continue to escalate quickly.)
Sophomore guard Leland Green is questionable to play today coming off the right shoulder injury he took in the regular-season finale at Cal State Fullerton. He’s made progress, but unclear how much. If he can’t go, look for Brandon Thomas to get some minutes (he might, anyway).
The lowest seed UH has won a conference tournament as was No. 5, in the 2001 WAC tourney. In its last outing as a 6 seed — its final year of WAC participation, 2012 — UH beat third-seeded Idaho in the first round and lost to second-seeded New Mexico State in the semifinals.
If UH doesn’t get by UCI today, the season isn’t NECESSARILY over. UH athletic director David Matlin has looked at the possibility of CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament participation. It remains an unlikely possibility, in no small part because of the $40K-plus price tag for hosting teams. And UH, if history (2011 and 2013) is any precedent, would be asked to host.
Quick recaps of the other games of the day:
Game 1: No. 1 UC Davis 70, No. 8 UC Riverside 66. The Highlanders rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to tie it up midway through the second half. Chance Murray (22 points) buried some late 3s to keep UCR alive a little longer under its interim coach, Justin Bell, but league MVP TJ Shorts II hit the clinching free throws with 0.7 seconds left.
Game 2: No. 4 Cal State Fullerton 76, No. 5 Long Beach State 74. The Titans seized the lead back from the 49ers late, then caught a break when The Beach couldn’t convert five or six tying shots inside in the final minute. CSUF’s Kyle Allman Jr. (24 points) was relieved after he missed two potential clinching free throws with 8.9 seconds left. Gabe Levin closed his career with 22 points for LBSU.