Tony Gill scored 19 points and led Pacific to a 64-55 win over UC Irvine in the Big West Conference Tournament final.
Pacific (22-12), the second seed in the tourney, defeated UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly to reach the title game. The Tigers won their first Big West title since 2006 and fifth overall, tied with Long Beach State for most in the conference. They will make their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance, their fifth under coach Bob Thomason, who will retire after 25 years at the end of the season.
Lorenzo McCloud registered 16 points and seven rebounds in the victory.
"What a wonderful game we played," Thomason said. "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."
Daman Starring had a team-high 19 points and Chris McNealy added 12 for the Anteaters (20-15), who were looking for their first conference championship. The Anteaters, who earned the fourth seed in the tourney, defeated Hawaii and top-seeded Long Beach State to make it to the final.
After the game, UCI coach Russell Turner commented on the honor it was to coach against Thomason.
"He's the winningest coach in conference history," Turner said. "The job he's done this year is outstanding. To have his team play as well as they've played the last two weeks is a great credit to him as a coach, as well as to his staff, who has been together with him for a long time. They've had a lot of continuity in that program. He's had a sustained run of success, that we'd like to emulate at Irvine. I like the fact that he's a great competitor, and also a heck of a coach."
At halftime, Pacific led 31-20. They extended its lead by as much as 13 points, 38-25, with 16:50 remaining in regulation.
UC Irvine, though, came back and went on a 16-6 run over the next six minutes to cut the deficit to 44-41. Starring scored eight points during the swing.
The Anteaters were unable to get any closer, however, and were outscored 20-14 for the remainder of the contest.
Pacific did not make a single field goal in the final 5:22 of the game, but was able to maintain its lead, as the team made 11-of-14 from the foul line during the span.
Gill and McCloud both shot 6-of-12 from the field ... Pacific missed all four of its 3-point attempts in the second half ... Pacific's bench outscored UC Irvine's bench 31-2 ... UC Irvine lost its fourth Big West title game.