Meet UC Irvine, the best college basketball team in California


SAN JOSE, Calif. – For more than 50 years, UC Irvine's men's basketball program exists in relative anonymity.

Without even a NIT victory to their credit, let alone a win in the NCAA tournament, the Anteaters have never really had a chance to break into the Southern California sports public's conscience. This was not necessarily a source of frustration for people around the program because it was a simple and easy to understand reality.

It was always going to take a special moment to change, if only momentarily. It's finally Friday that the 13th seeded, Anteaters, beat the fourth seed, Kansas State, 70-64, to win their first NCAA tournament win and the biggest surprise of the first round.

"We could easily have come here tonight against a Big 12 team, like many other 14 – headed players, and we were stunned," said Irvine coach Russell Turner. . "But we seemed to be gaining ground with this group out of our self-confidence, and I think it's because we deserved it – and it's so fun, you know."

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A few weeks ago, Turner pointed out how the place of his team in the hierarchical order of the state was beginning to change. UCLA and USC were both down this season and another high school in the University of California, California, was a disaster. Meanwhile, the Anteaters have recorded 13 consecutive wins to close the regular season.

"The people of UC Irvine live in the shadows, live like little brothers of UCLA and SC and perhaps others – Cal, Stanford, San Diego State," said Turner. "Well, little brother has been in the weight room, he's getting better, he's getting ready for such an opportunity, so I'm really happy that these players can work so hard for everyone to see and then But I'm also very excited about the fans of our program who also seem to have endured the feeling of being like little brothers, we have to hold our chest a bit, now, I think. "

This remarkable performance of Irvine was achieved during a season when UCLA was not qualified for the tournament was particularly satisfying for its top scorer, Max Hazzard. His grandfather, the late Walt Hazzard, was the most valuable player of the NCAA tournament in 1964 when he led the Bruins to their first NCAA title. He then directed the program after a 10-year career in the NBA.

If the Bruins had offered a scholarship offer to Max Hazzard, he would have said that he would have accepted it.

"They recruited a lot of my teammates in high school, so of course they always spoke to me," he said. "But I did not really know if they wanted me or if it was just a kind of respect for my name."

Max Hazzard of UC Irvine, who scored 14 points, was not recruited by UCLA, where his grandfather was the star, so he went to UC Irvine. Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports

Faced with Kansas State, Hazzard has proven – as well as program followers – that it's more than a name. The junior redshirt hit five points to three and tied with his teammate Evan Leonard with a record of 19 points.

"We had three goals all year, namely to win the regular season championship, the tournament championship and progress in the NCAA tournament," said Hazzard. "And that does not just mean a match, we have another game on Sunday and we plan to put ourselves in a position to win again, and we hope to be able to do that and participate in the next weekend."

The Anteaters (31-5) will face Oregon (24-12), the 12th seed, winner of the first round 72-54 against Wisconsin, and are the only Californian team to stay up.

No. 13 seed UC Irvine knocked off No. 4 Kansas in the first game of the NCAA tournament between ages 70 and 64. AP Photo / Chris Carlson

"It's really exciting, and we will continue to try to carry the torch and pass for Cali, but especially for [UC Irvine], "Hazzard said." So, we will just continue to do what we do, continue to follow the game plan. "

Hazzard is not the only player in the team from a large basketball family. Irvine's list is littered with familiar family names. To the front JC Butler is the son of former NBA player and great American player Caron Butler. The father of guard Spencer Rivers is the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers. Colleague's brother Collin Welp, the late Christian Welp, is the all-time leading scorer in Washington.

"With athletics in general – especially in California, Southern California – perceptions matter.Our university is an incredible place where incredible things happen, but not everyone has the ## 147 ## "We feel as good as we are," Turner said. "It's so special to have the opportunity to show it to basketball because there should be incredible pride.

"And coming from Irvine, UC Irvine and for UC Irvine students and UC Irvine alumni, if we can help add something or continue on this path, it's a good thing. is a very good point because I think we still have a long way to go. "


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