|Courtesy of Marlin Agoub|
Anaheim, Calif. – If you needed proof that defense actually does win championships, look no further than the Honda Center on Saturday night where the UC Davis Aggies put clamps on the UC Irvine Anteaters. With a 50-47 victory, UC Davis wins its first Big West Tournament championship and earned its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“Before the tournament started we told the guys that the best defensive will walk away with the biggest prize and go dancing,” said UC Davis coach Jim Les. “These guys, for these three games, were dominant.”
Brynton Lemar scored 11 points in the final four minutes to lead UC Davis to victory. In the closing moments with a 46-44 lead, Lemar was face-to-face with UC Irvine’s Luke Nelson milking the shot clock and having a conversation before he drove the lane and scored two points on a goal tending.
“I literally told him, ‘you know I worked too hard for this. I’m not going to let this slip out,’” Lemar explained. “He said, “Alright, let’s see it.’ So I took it as a challenge. I love challenges and I’m not going to back down from nobody… It was a great experience.”
Lemar scored a game-high 20 points. Chima Moneke, who’s put back at the buzzer of the Aggies’ semifinal game earned them a championship opportunity, was selected as the Big West Tournament MVP.
“This was the toughest last four minutes I ever played,” said a delighted Moneke. “I’m just happy we won.”
J.T. Andrele scored the first points of the game for UC Davis to put them ahead on the scoreboard. It was a lead that they never gave up for the first 30 minutes, mainly because they made life hard on offense for UC Irvine.
The Aggies kept the Anteater starting backcourt of Nelson and Jaron Martin in check throughout the first half by holding them to a combined 2-8 from the field. Martin would finish with only three points total.
UC Irvine committed as many turnovers as they had field goal attempts in the first 10 minutes – nine. UC Irvine, with two minutes left in the first half, had as many points as turnovers – 11; Irvine committed 13 turnovers overall in the first half.
“They were physical, they were aggressive, the way championship basketball is often played,” said UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner. “
When they weren’t turning the ball over, the shots weren’t falling. UC Irvine shot 6-23 in the first half. UC Davis led UC Irvine 24-16 at the half. It was the lowest scoring output in any half by UC Irvine all season.
Irvine scored the first five points of the second half, sending a reminder as to why they’re the top-seeded team in the conference. They took their first lead of the game on a Tommy Rutherford dunk, midway through the second half.
There was a lot of nervous energy in the building in closing minutes but it was apparent that nervous isn’t a word used to describe Lemar. When the Aggies started to tighten up, he was a cool as a fan, continuously driving for layups and making free throws. In the semifinal, Lemar scored nine points in the overtime period.