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UCI upset bid falters

No. 8-seeded Anteaters lead top-seeded 49ers for much of Big West tourney quarterfinal.

March 10, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com

ANAHEIM — This time the only storming onto the court was done by UC Irvine Coach Russell Turner, who ventured a few steps off the sideline to deliver critical words to one official following the Anteaters' 79-72 loss to top-seeded Long Beach State in the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference Tournament on Thursday at Honda Center.

The last time the Anteaters faced the 49ers, the Anteaters' student rooters energetically cavorted on UCI's home floor to congratulate Turner's first UCI men's basketball team on what turned out to be its crowning victory in a 13-19 season.

Thursday was the Anteaters' third straight first-round exit in the conference tournament and terminated its third straight losing season, the previous two having helped end the 13-year run of former coach Pat Douglass.

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Senior point guard Patrick Rembert was the only on-court remnant from the 2007-08 campaign, in which the 'Eaters' 18-16 campaign ended in the conference tournament title game, before once again failing to make the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance. In 34 seasons since becoming a Division I program, UCI has yet to dance. March continues to be Lack of History month for these 'Eaters.

Long Beach State (21-10) has a much more storied hoops history and, thanks to Coach Dan Monson and a junior trio that relies as much on togetherness as their ample talent, the 49ers resurgence continued Thursday.

But not without a scare.

"I thought it was a character win, because it certainly was not easy," said Monson, whose team has won 10 straight and took two of three hard-fought battles this season against No. 8-seeded UCI.

UCI led most of the first half, regained the lead midway through the second half and took a 63-62 advantage into the final moments.

But Casper Ware, the Conference Player of the Year, nailed a fall-away three-pointer with 3:04 left that put the regular-season conference champs up for good.

UCI battled within 70-68, 72-70 and 74-72, the last with 39 seconds left.

But though Turner had ordered a foul, UCI was late on the chase during a full-court press that was exploited for a transition layup that Larry Anderson turned into a three-point play with 30 ticks remaining.

UCI turned it over on its next possession and Anderson drained two foul shots with 23.3 seconds left to finalize the scoring. Long Beach made 25 of 33 foul shots. UCI connected on 17 of 19 from the line.

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