Pacific defeated UC Irvine 64-55 in the championship game of the Big West Tournament on Saturday, March 16 at the Honda Center to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Junior Tony Gill earned Most Valuable Player honors after leading the Tigers with 19 points. Senior Lorenzo McCloud added 16 points and was named to the All-Tournament team. The Tigers improved to 22-12 on the season and earned the school's ninth NCAA Tournament appearance. UC Irvine finished the regular season 20-15.
The NCAA Tournament selection show airs on CBS at 3:00 p.m (PDT) on Sunday, March 17. There will be a viewing party at the Vereschagin Alumni House on the Pacific campus, with the doors opening at 2:30 p.m.
"What a wonderful game we played," said Thomason. "We played great the first half, great defense. Lorenzo had to get to the basket and make tough shots. Gill had to make tough shots and drives. If UCI was on point with their 3-point shooting we would've been in trouble."
Pacific opened the first half with a 4-0 lead, but fell behind after five straight from UCI. The Tigers made just two of their first 13 shots from the field, but had eight offensive rebounds in the first four minutes. The teams traded the lead five times, before Pacific scored four straight on a jumper by junior Tony Gill and a pair of free throws by junior Ross Rivera to take a 14-10 lead with 10:15 remaining. After a jumper by Daman Starring cut it to 14-12, McCloud scored four points in a 12-2 run to give the Tigers a 26-14 lead with 6:17 to play in the half. UCI scored six straight, but a jumper from McCloud and a three-pointer by Gill in the final 2:38 gave the Tigers a 31-20 halftime lead.
Leading 31-20 at the half, Pacific saw its lead cut to single digits at the 17:42 mark when Will Davis made an alley-oop dunk to cut the Tigers' lead to 34-25. The Tigers extended their lead back to double figures and matched their largest lead of the night when Gill converted on a mid-range jumper to make it a 38-25 advantage.
With Pacific leading by 12 at the first media timeout of the second half, the Anteaters went on a 6-0 run to cut their deficit to six points, at which point Bob Thomason called a timeout. Following the timeout, McCloud missed a three-pointer, the Tigers came up with a stop on the defensive end, and Travis Fulton knocked down a jumper to extend the Tiger lead to eight.
UC Irvine would proceed to go on a 5-0 run to bring the game to within three at 42-39, capped off by a three-point field goal from Starring. It was as close as the Anteaters would get, however, as the Tigers went on a 7-2 run to stretch their lead to 47-42.
Leading 53-45 with just over five minutes to go, Pacific was able to keep control of the game from the free throw line with Ross Rivera and McCloud to keep the Anteaters at arm's length. Pacific held a 57-52 lead with 1:23 to go in the contest and coming out of a bench timeout, Gill was fouled by Starring and made both free throws to extend the Pacific lead to 59-52. After a missed three-pointer by Mike Wilder, Colin Beatty grabbed the defensive rebound and was promptly fouled, making both free throws and giving Pacific a nine-point edge at 61-52. After Chris McNealy sank a corner three to bring the Anteaters to within six at 61-55, Pacific sank three of their next four free throws to ice the game as they went on to a 64-55 victory.
The Tigers shot just 39.6% from the field, but held UC Irvine to just 35.8%. Pacific held a 39-34 rebounding advantage, including 13 offensive rebounds. Neither team turned it over much, but Pacific turned UCI's nine turnovers into a 7-0 points off of turnover advantage.
Pacific will find out its next opponent and location of its next game on the CBS Sports NCAA Tournament selection show.