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Gill scores 19 to lead Pacific to 64-55 win over UC Irvine for Big West title, NCAA berth

Reserve Tony Gill scored 19 points, Lorenzo McCloud added 16 and the University of the Pacific held off a second-half surge by UC Irvine to win the Big West Conference Tournament championship with a 64-55 victory Saturday night.

Pacific earned its ninth NCAA tournament berth, but first since 2006.

It will be the fifth appearance in the tournament for the Tigers under coach Bob Thomason, who is in his 25th and final season at the school.

Pacific (22-12) held an 11-point lead at halftime, but Irvine (20-15) rallied in the second half behind Daman Starring, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half.

A putback by Chris McNealy (12 points) got the Anteaters within 44-41 with 10:45 remaining, but that was as close as they would get. Irvine, bidding for its first NCAA berth, lost its fourth Big West title game.

Pacific led 31-20 at halftime and increased its lead 33-20 when Colin Beatty scored the first basket of the second half. Then the Anteaters, who shot just 26 percent from the field in the first half, suddenly got hot. An alley-oop from Michael Wilder to Will Davis II resulted in a spectacular one-handed dunk and started an 11-2 run that moved the Anteaters to within 42-39 with 11:36 left in the game.

Irvine got within five points in the final minutes, but Pacific made its free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

Pacific took a quick 4-0 lead, then went cold, missing its next nine shots and allowing Irvine to take the lead at 5-4 when Wilder hit a 3-pointer. Sama Taku's layup ended the dry spell, put the Tigers back on top and seemed to get them going.

A basket by Wilder gave the Anteaters their last lead of the first half a 9-8. A 3-pointer by Markus Duran put Pacific up 22-14, and after another defensive stop by Pacific, McCloud scored down low and the Tigers increased their lead to 24-14.

The lead grew to 26-14 after another bucket by McCloud.

Despite its cold start, Pacific shot 39 percent (13 for 33) from the floor in the first half, and held Irvine to just 26 percent (7 for 27) shooting. Pacific also held a 23-15 advantage on the boards, led by Travis Fulton, who had six rebounds.

McCloud and Gill each had eight points at the half, and Wilder had five points for Irvine.