ANAHEIM, Calif. --- UC Irvine used a 16-7 run in the final 3:40 to knock off top-seeded Long Beach State, 67-60, in a Big West Conference Tournament semifinal Friday night at the Honda Center.
With the victory, fourth-seeded UCI advances to the league tourney championship game for the fourth time in history as the 'Eaters will face Pacific Saturday night on at 7:30 on ESPN2 for a chance to gain the program's first berth into the NCAA Tournament. UCI has fallen in the championship game in its previous three appearances in 1988, 1994 and 2008.
The 'Eaters, 20-14 overall, have won eight of their last nine games and 10 of their last 13. The 20 victories are the program's most wins since the 2002-03 team finished 20-9. UCI is 5-5 all-time versus Long Beach State in the Big West Tournament.
UCI freshman point guard Alex Young scored a game-high 18 points and added four assists in Friday night's win over the 49ers, scoring nine points in each half.
Sophomore post Will Davis II had 14 points, hitting 6 of 8 shots, and pulled down nine rebounds plus had three blocked shots for UCI. Junior guard Chris McNealy registered 13 points and seven rebounds as he made his third consecutive start in place of the injured Adam Folker.
Senior guard Daman Starring recorded seven points, seven assists and three steals. Starring had a sweet feed on a Davis dunk with 35 seconds left to give UCI a 63-57 lead and he hit a pair of free throws with 26.9 seconds remaining go push the 'Eaters' lead back to five.
Young's three from the left corner, off a Starring assist, with 3:40 left gave UCI the lead for good at 54-53.
Starring then scored three straight points, including a layup with 2:05 remaining for a 57-53 lead.
Mike Caffey, who scored nine of Long Beach State's last 11 points, hit a jumper with 1:42 left to cut the 'Eaters' lead to two at 57-55, but Davis converted inside at 1:24 and Young hit two free throws with 1:08 remaining to give UCI a 61-55 lead.
Tony Freeland and Keala King led the 49ers with 15 points each, Caffey scored 14 and James Ennis 11.
UCI led 29-28 at halftime, which originally was a 32-28 score until a late three by Starring was disallowed due to a shot-clock violation.
Long Beach State went up by seven points twice in the second half, the last time at 43-36 with 14:32 left on a basket by King, and the 49ers still led by six at 49-43 on a bucket from Dan Jennings with 6:57 remaining before UCI began its late surge.
Travis Souza then canned a three from the left corner with 6:04 left to launch the stretch run by the 'Eaters.
UCI committed just seven turnovers in the game and hit 13 of 15 free throws in the game, including 10 of 11 in the second half.
The 'Eaters shot 43 percent from the field and Long Beach State 42 percent. UCI was 6 of 20 from three-point range and the 49ers 5 of 17. The 49ers, who hit 5 of 9 free throws for the game, outrebounded UCI, 40-28.
"I'm really proud of my squad right now and I'm excited for the opportunity that we have for tomorrow," UCI head coach Russell Turner said.
"Tonight's game was like a lot of our games, it was close and we grinded it out with outstanding defense. My guys made stops and we got the rebounds there in the second half which we weren't getting in the first half. I couldn't be prouder of the effort that my team put forth," Turner added.
"We didn't turn the ball over. Two of our turnovers were team turnovers and one was the last play of the first half. If you don't turn it over, Long Beach can't run and that's a credit to our team. If you have 14 assists and seven turnovers, you feel like you're going to win that game," Turner said.