The Tigers and Hurricanes will meet on Friday, March 22 at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, TX in an East Region game. Tip off is 11:10 am Pacific time.
Pacific (22-12, 13-5 Big West) earned the automatic bid by winning the Big West Tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA as the number 2 seed. The Tigers’ path to the Big West Tournament Championship included victories over number 7 seed UC-Santa Barbara (71-68), number 3 seed Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (55-53), and number 4 seed UC-Irvine (64 – 55) in the finals.
This is UOP’s ninth NCAA Tournament appearance, and their fifth NCAA appearance (1997, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2013) under Bob Thomason, who is retiring at season’s end after 25 years at the helm as UOP’s head coach. This will also be the final season with UOP as a member of the Big West Conference, as they transition to the West Coast Conference for the 2013 – 2014 season.
The UOP men’s basketball program has a record of 4-9 in the NCAA Tournament, with Thomason sporting a 2-4 record in the NCAA Tournament. In 1997, UOP lost to St. Joseph’s 75 – 65 in the first round. In 2004, UOP upset Providence 66 – 58 in the first round, before succumbing to Kansas 78 – 63 in the second round. In 2005, UOP defeated Pittsburgh 79 – 71 in the first round, before losing to Washington 97 – 79 in the second. In 2006, the Tigers lost a triple overtime thriller 88 – 76 to Boston College in the first round.
The Tigers are led by Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player Tony Gill, a 6’8″ junior forward, and 6’0″ senior point guard Lorenzo McCloud, who also made the all-Tournament team in the Big West Tournament. The Tigers’ rotation goes 10-deep, and includes a balanced offense featuring crisp passing, off-ball movement, precise halfcourt execution, and pick-and-pop clutch perimeter shooting. Leading scorer McCloud (11.4 points per game) is the straw that stirs the Tigers drink, as their offense is normally initiated with his dribble penetration.
Travis Fulton (9.1 ppg), Sama Taku (8.3 ppg) and Ross Rivera (7.7 ppg) add scoring punch for the Tigers, with reserve Gill averaging 7.4 ppg. Fulton (4.0 rebounds per game), Khalil Kelley (3.6 rpg), Taku (3.5 rpg), and Colin Beatty (3.5 rpg) also crash the boards for UOP. McCloud leads the Tigers with 4.0 assists per game.
On defense, the Tigers often double-team the post, and close out effectively on opponents’ perimeter shots.
The Hurricanes, Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament champion, have tied the program’s record for highest NCAA Tournament seed (number 2) in school history. The Hurricanes are led in scoring by point guard Shane Larkin (14.6 ppg), who is also their leading playmaker with 146 assists. Joining Larkin in double-figure scoring averages are Kenny Kadji (13.3 ppg) and Durand Scott (13.2 ppg). Kanji and Reggie Johnson lead the Hurricanes in rebounding at 7.0 rpg.
The Tigers’ depth will be put to the test as the Hurricanes boast one of the tallest and most athletic frontcourts in the nation, as well as prolific scorers Larkin and Scott leading the backcourt. Keeping the Hurricanes from the offensive boards will be a big key for the Tigers’ chances of an upset. Another key for UOP is to knock down their 3-point shots with consistency to neutralize the Hurricanes’ strength in the post.
The winner of Pacific-Miami (FL) plays the winner of number 7 seed Illinois and number 10 seed Colorado in the third round on Sunday.