The UC Riverside men’s basketball team is hoping to cap off the best season in program history with a first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. But the Highlanders will have to win the Big West Men’s Basketball Championship to do so, which begins this Tuesday at the at the Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
The Highlanders enter the conference tournament as the No. 3 seed, finishing the regular season with a 13-7 overall record, and an 8-4 record in the conference. The team opens play on Thursday night at 8 p.m. in a quarterfinal matchup against No. 6 seed University of Hawai’i. UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine are the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively.
UCR’s .650 winning percentage is also a high-water mark for the program in Division I, and its eight Big West wins match the school record set in 2008-09, though this year’s squad achieved that mark in four fewer games.
The Highlanders are led by first-year coach Mike Magpayo, the first Division I men’s basketball head coach of Asian descent. The Big West announced Monday that forward Arinze Chidom had been named to the All-Big West First Team. The Oakland native ranks ninth in the Big West in scoring with 13.5 points per game. Guard Dominick Pickett was tabbed the conference’s Best Hustle Player after leading the league in conference games with a 4.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Point guard Zyon Pullin and center Jock Perry received honorable mentions in the All-Big West awards.
Thursday’s quarterfinals will feature four games with the two first-round winners advancing to the main bracket. The semifinals are slated for Friday, March 12, at 6:00 and 9:00 p.m., while the championship game tips off at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 13.
ESPN3 will televise the first round and quarterfinal action, as well as Friday’s first semifinal. ESPNU will air Friday’s second semifinal, and ESPN2 will carry Saturday’s final. The champion receives the Big West’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The championship game will also be broadcast on Sirius XM. The game is available on the following channels: Sirius – 136, XM – 201 and Online – 964.