UC Irvine Pregame

Vs. UC Riverside

Big West Conference Tournament quarterfinal

Thursday, 6 p.m. at Honda Center

UC Irvine, the Big West Conference regular-season men's basketball champion, begins its quest to win three games in three days and advance to its first NCAA Tournament.

The Anteaters (22-10) enter as the No. 1 seed, having won the conference regular-season crown, the third in their history, with a 13-3 record in conference play. They face No. 8-seeded UC Riverside (10-20) aiming to advance to the semifinals.

It's the 32nd appearance in the Big West Tournament for the Anteaters, who lost in the championship game last season to Pacific, 64-55.

The 'Eaters are 13-13 in Big West Tournament quarterfinals. UCI topped UC Riverside in both regular-season meetings, earning a 72-52 win in Riverside and a 70-52 triumph at the Bren Events Center.

UCI has won four straight, nine of its last 10 and 15 of its last 18. A win would match the 1981-82 team for second-most single-season wins in program history. The 2000-01 'Eaters were 25-5.

Big West Coach of the Year Russell Turner starts a balanced lineup led by conference Freshman of the Year Luke Nelson (11.8 points per game), a second-team all-conference choice, as well as senior first-team all-conference performer Chris McNealy (11.4).

UCI also features junior Will Davis (10.7 points and a team-leading 6.7 rebounds per contest), as well as 7-foot-6 freshman center Mamadou Ndiaye (8.2 points and six rebounds per game) and sophomore guard Alex Young (8.8 points and 4.6 assists per game).

Ndiaye, the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, has 94 blocked shots, one shy of the conference single-season record.

Riverside, which has lost six of its last eight and is 3-7 all-time in the Big West Tournament, is led by senior Chris Patton (13.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game). Freshman Sam Finley averages 12.5 points per contest and Taylor Johns is chipping in 12.3 per game.

— Barry Faulkner