ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Luke Nelson scored 17 points and UC Irvine earned the first NCAA Tournament berth in the school’s 38-year basketball history with a 67-58 victory over Hawaii in the Big West championship game on Saturday night.
The Anteaters (21-12) lost all four previous times they went to the Big West title game (1988, 1994, 2008 and 2013). They were the top seed in the tournament last year, but lost in the semifinals to Cal Poly.
Irvine made six of eight free throws in the final 51 seconds before tournament MVP Will Davis II put the punctuation mark on it with a tomahawk dunk with 6.6 seconds to go.
Aaron Valdes scored 17 points for Hawaii (22-12), 14 of them in the first half to pace the Rainbow Warriors to a 33-29 lead at intermission.