SAN JOSE, Calif. – UC Irvine used a pivotal 15-2 run midway through the second half to take the lead, as the Anteaters held off a late rally by No. 18/14 Kansas State, 70-64, in the first round of the NCAA South Regional at the SAP Center on Friday afternoon.
With the win, 13-seed UC Irvine (31-5, 15-1 Big West) earn its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory and advances to the second round of the South Regional, where the Anteaters will face No. 12 seed Oregon (24-12) on Sunday.
K-State (25-9, 14-4 Big 12) finishes the season with consecutive 25-win campaigns for the first time in school history after earning its second Big 12 title in seven seasons under head coach Bruce Weber.
Senior Kamau Stokes, in his last game as a Wildcat, led the way with 18 points on 4-of-12 field goals, including 3-of-9 from 3-point range, to go with 4 rebounds and 4 assists in nearly 39 minutes. Junior Makol Mawien collected his second career double-double with 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Junior Xavier Sneed and sophomore Cartier Diarra chipped in 9 points each.
With the first bucket of the game, Sneed became the 31st player in school history to reach 1,000 career points, joining Stokes and seniors Barry Brown, Jr., and Dean Wade.
UC Irvine, which has won 17 consecutive games dating back to January 19, saw four players score in double figures, including 19 each by juniors Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard.
With K-State leading 49-44 with 10:35 remaining after a Mawien bucket, UC Irvine used a 15-2 run – ignited by a 3-pointer from Hazzard – over more than a 4-minute span to take control of the game. The Anteaters scored 12 in a row at one point during the run to take a 59-51 advantage with 6:03 to play.
Twice the Wildcats closed the deficit to 2 points down the stretch, including 66-64 with 1:03 to play after a 3-pointer from Diarra, but could not get any closer, as the Anteaters hit four consecutive free throws to clinch the victory, 70-64.
UC Irvine, which became just the third team this season to score 70 or more points against K-State, connected on 44 percent (22-of-50) from the field, including 39.1 percent (9-of-23) from 3-point range, and knocked down 17-of-19 free throws. The Wildcats shot just 37.3 percent (22-of-59), including 29.6 percent (8-of-27) from long range, and went 12-of-15 (80 percent) from the charity stripe.
One of the most winningest senior classes in school history, Brown, Stokes and Wade finish with an overall record of 88-51, which included three NCAA Tournament appearances. The trio finish their careers with 4,533 combined points, as Brown (1,781), Wade (1,510) and Stokes (1,242) finish No. 5, No. 10 and No. 17 on the all-time scoring list. Brown finishes as the school’s all-time leader in games played (139) and steals (254).
K-State falls to 37-35 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including an 11-6 mark in the first round.
HOW IT HAPPENED
K-State began the game with a barrage of 3-pointers, including an opening 3-pointer from Sneed, who surpassed 1,000 points on the first Wildcat score of the game. Stokes and sophomore Cartier Diarra continued by adding two more 3-pointers, as the Wildcats scored on 3 of their first 4 from the field to jump out 9-5 at the 17:28 mark.
Through their first 8 shots from the field, the Wildcats connected on five of them, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. The efficient shooting from the field gave K-State an early advantage, leading 17-9, 7 minutes into the game.
Over the next three possessions, UC Irvine responded by scoring 7-straight points to bring the margin to just 1 at 17-16 with 11:27 left in the half. During the run, guard Robert Cartwright scored 5 points.
The Wildcats held the Anteaters scoreless for the next 4:38, a span, in which, they forced 3 turnovers. During the strech, K-State scored 9-straight points to take a 26-16 lead with 7:12 remaining.
With under 4 minutes remaining before halftime, UC Irvine cut the lead to just 1 point after a 9-0 run, in which, K-State missed on 5 consecutive shots. Throughout the first half, the Wildcats shot 35.7 percent (10-of-28) from the field and 28.5 percent (4-of-14) from long range, as the Anteaters knocked down a buzzer-beater before the half, as the score was knotted at 30-30 at the break.
In the second half, Brown found his first points of the game on a jumper that gave K-State the lead at 34-33 at the 18:11 mark. Brown sat much of the first half after accumulating 2 fouls in the opening minutes.
With 4 points in the first half, Mawien gave K-State a need boost in the second half, scoring 6 points in the first 4 minutes, including 4 second-chance points, as the Wildcats trailed 40-39 with 14:45 remaining.
With K-State trailing 42-41, Stokes spouted off 6-straight points to give the Wildcats a 47-44 lead with 12:09 left in the game, at which point, Stokes led K-State in scoring with 13 points.
The Anteaters claimed their largest lead of the game at 59-51 with 6:03 remaining after a pair of free throws from Leonard, which extended a UC-Irvine run to 12-0 over a 2:49 span.
K-State responded on a 3-pointer from Stokes with 4:26 left in the game, which brought the Wildcats to within 5 points at 61-56. The Stokes 3-pointer ended a 4:14 scoring-drought from the field.
Following a pair of Anteater free throws, Brown drilled another 3-pointer on an assist from Sneed to cut the UC-Irvine lead to 63-59 with 4:01 remaining.
With 1:26 remaining, UC-Irvine knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to take a 66-61 lead.
On the next K-State possession, Sneed snagged a one-handed rebound and dished it out to Diarra for a deep 3-pointer to bring the score to 66-64 with 1:03 remaining.
After a Sneed foul, UC-Irvine’s Leonard hit a pair of free throws to give the Anteaters a 68-64 lead. On the next possession, Brown was unable to connect on a contested 3-pointer, as UC Irvine collected the rebound and was sent to the line for a pair of final free throws.
UC-Irvine escaped with a 70-64 victory, their first NCAA tournament win in program history. K-State shot 37.2 percent (22-of-59) from the field and 29.6 percent (8-of-27) on 3-pointers.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kamau Stokes – Senior Kamau Stokes led the way in his final game as a Wildcat, scoring 18 points on 4-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-9 from 3-point range, to go with 4 rebounds and 4 assists in nearly 39 minutes. It marked his 70th career double-digit scoring game, including his 21st this season, and eighth straight game in double digits.
STAT OF THE GAME
70 – UC Irvine became just the third team this season (in 34 games) to score 70 or more points against K-State, joining Marquette and Iowa State. The Anteaters connected on 44 percent (22-of-50) from the field, including 39.1 percent (9-of-23) from 3-point range, and shot 89.5 percent (17-of-19) from the free throw line.