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Men's basketball: Anteaters NIT bound

March 11, 2002

Barry Faulkner

Though it could not dodge what Coach Pat Douglass termed "a

mid-major monkey on our backs," the UC Irvine men's basketball team will

be back on the court after receiving a bid Sunday to the National

Invitation Tournament.

The Anteaters (21-10), whose bid for the program's first NCAA

Tournament berth vanished in a 66-61 Big West semifinal upset by UC Santa

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Barbara Friday night, will meet BYU (17-11) Thursday at the Marriott

Center in Provo, Utah. Tipoff is 6 p.m. (PST).

"We are excited to have the chance for postseason play," Douglass said

Sunday, after learning he would face a Cougar squad guided by former UCI

player Steve Cleveland (1974-76), with whom Douglass is already

acquainted.

"Steve Cleveland is a friend of mine from when he was the coach at

Fresno City College and I was at Cal State Bakersfield," Douglass said.

The Anteaters are no strangers to the NIT, where they were defeated in

last year's first round at eventual champion Tulsa, 75-71.

That loss, which followed another semifinal setback in the Big West

Tournament, ended a 25-5 campaign that stands as the winningest in school

history.

This year, the Anteaters earned a share of their second straight Big

West regular-season crown, en route to the program's first back-to-back

20-win seasons.

Douglass wondered aloud after a 72-65 first-round tournament win over

Long Beach State Thursday, whether being forced to win three games in a

week to earn the mid-major conference's lone ticket to the Big Dance,

didn't wrongly minimize four months of work that included so much

success.

UCI, which went 1-1 in NIT appearances in 1982 and '86, the latter

including a first-round win at UCLA, will now try to maximize its second

chance against a BYU squad coming off a disappointing Mountain West

Conference tournament showing.

The Cougers, who won the Mountain West Tournament title last year,

were felled, 62-51, by surprising tournament champion San Diego State in

Thursday's first round at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

It was BYU's first first-round exit since 1998 and extended their

losing streak to three games. Cleveland's Cougers, however, are 15-0 at

home this season, including wins over Big West foes Idaho, Cal State

Northridge, as well as NCAA-bound Creighton, San Diego State, Wyoming and

Utah.

The Cougers, who defeated then No. 13-ranked Stanford, 81-76, in a

Dec. 22 game in Las Vegas, are led by 6-foot-6 junior guard Travis

Hansen, a second-team All-Mountain West selection averaging 15.4 points

and 6.4 rebounds.

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