Anaheim, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of teams take aim at their first tournament title in the Big West Conference as the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors go up against the UC Irvine Anteaters at the Honda Center on Saturday night.
The fifth-seeded Warriors, who recently made the move from the Western Athletic Conference, took down Long Beach State in the quarterfinals on Thursday (79-72) and then topped top-seeded UC Davis on Friday (65-58) in order to advance.
The last time Hawaii played in a conference tournament final was back in 2002 when it defeated Tulsa for the WAC Championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
As for the third-seeded Anteaters, they are making their fifth appearance in the Big West Tournament final, but have yet to bring home the trophy. The team, which lost to Pacific in the title game back in 2013 by a score of 64-55, toppled UC Riverside in the quarterfinals this time around (63-54) and then survived overtime versus second-seeded UC Santa Barbara last night, 72-63.
Hawaii was led by Roderick Bobbitt who tallied 14 points and handed out six of his team's 15 assists on Friday as the Warriors slipped by UC Davis. Also scoring in double figures were Isaac Fleming and Aaron Valdes with 13 and 12 points, respectively, for a squad that was 42.3 percent accurate from the floor but just 6-of-20 behind the 3-point line.
A starter in all 32 games in which he has appeared this season, Valdes paces the Warriors in scoring with 13.6 ppg and is also the top man on the glass with 5.3 rpg. Stefan Jankovic, who had a run of seven straight double-digit scoring games snapped in the first game of the tournament, is still averaging 10.8 ppg, even though he has combined for just 12 points in the last two decisions. As a team, Hawaii is posting 73.3 ppg on the campaign overall, closing out the regular season last week with back-to-back games with at least 90 points.
UCI appeared poised to run away with the meeting against the Gauchos on Friday, up by as many as 12 points less than five minutes into the contest, but with only eight field goals in the second half the squad was forced to overtime before picking up the victory. Will Davis II and Mamadou Ndiaye both tallied 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, the former clearing 15 rebounds and the latter blocking four shots. Luke Nelson pitched in with 14 points, seven assists and three steals in the win as well.
Davis II, a 54.1 percent shooter from the field on the season, heads the scoring list for the Anteaters with his 13.0 ppg, not to mention leading the way on the glass with 6.9 rpg. Ndiaye has played in only 13 games, but is now coming alive with 10.6 ppg, on the strength of 62.5 percent shooting from the floor, followed by Nelson with 10.2 ppg for a group that is posting 67.9 ppg.