For the first time in history, the UC Irvine Men’s and Women’s basketball teams both earned the regular season titles in their respective divisions heading into the 2023 Hercules Tires Big West Championships. The championship is being presented by the Hawaiian Islands and hosted at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada from March 7-12.
The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (22-10, 15-5) clinched a share of the regular season Big West Conference title after a 52-44 victory over Cal State Bakersfield in the final game of the regular season. After experiencing back-to-back losses to UC San Diego and University of Hawai’i, the team finished the season with big victories over UC Riverside and Bakersfield to secure the number one seed in the postseason conference tournament. The ‘Eaters, although tied with UC Santa Barbara for first place, were able to clinch the top seed through a tiebreaker. Under head coach Coach Russell Turner, the team has clinched the regular season title six times and four out of the last seven seasons.
The UCI Women’s Basketball team (24-5, 16-2) clinched an outright regular season Big West Conference title after a 59-48 victory over Bakersfield in their regular season finale.The team finished the season with a formidable seven game win streak with victories over Cal Poly, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, University of Hawai’i, UC Riverside and CSU Bakersfield. The strong finish netted the program’s first ever Big West regular-season championship.
A historic season demands historic expectations, and if each team is aiming to conclude their season with a Big West Championship, then the following players will be key deciding factors.
The Men’s Two-Punch Duo: DJ Davis and Dawson Baker
The ‘Eaters tactful and efficient team basketball is powered through their two-punch duo, junior guards Dawson Baker and DJ Davis. Throughout the season, both star players averaged about 15 points per game, contributing on average over 40%of UCI’s overall scoring. And, their contributions have not gone unnoticed. Davis was awarded a spot on the All Big West’s first team and Baker was awarded a spot on the second team. The two will be instrumental in continuing Anteater dominance in the Big West conference, with berth in the NCAA tournament on the line.
The Women’s Dynamic Backcourt: Diaba Konate and Nikki Tom
The UCI Women’s Basketball team is the epitome of a well rounded team. The ‘Eaters boast four players averaging over eight points per game. The team is led by junior guard Diaba Kontate and sophomore guard Nikki Tom, both averaging eight points per game. Earlier in the season, the women’s team experienced three season ending injuries to key starting players, sophomore guards Hunter Hernandez and Olivia Williams, and graduate forward Naomi Hunt. However, the team has continued to battle and prove to be a major threat in the Big West Conference Championship.
Despite the injuries, the accolades piled up for the ‘Eaters. Hernandez made first team All Big West, junior forward/center Nevaeh Parkinson’s won best sixth player, Konate made All Big West defensive team, and Tom and sophomore guard Déja Lee added All Big West honorable mention awards. The women’s team has displayed an immense amount of grit and incredible perseverance despite the obstacles put in front of them.
The bar is set high as the demands for number one seeds are nothing short of excellence. Will the ‘Eaters prevail and top off the basketball season with undisputed program dominance, or is the number seeding a falsehood that’s yet to be revealed?
You can keep up with both teams as they travel to the Big West Tournament with the women’s first game slated at 12 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, and the men’s first match at 12 p.m. Thursday, March 9 on ESPN+.
Jason Garcia Escobar is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.