In another few months, Pacific will have to deal with the likes of Gonzaga, St. Mary's and BYU on a regular basis when they join the West Coast Conference. As a founding member of both the Big West AND the West Coast Conference, Pacific can easily claim both as home, and with next year's move, align themselves with who they think they best fit with.
Tonight however, they got to bask in the glory of their final Big West Tournament Championship game.
That was not the only thing Pacific had to celebrate tonight, however. They sent head coach Bob Thomason out with his fifth NCAA tournament team as a coach. Coach Thomason announced his retirement at the beginning of the season after 25 years of being Pacific's Head Coach (plus another four years as a player). Easily, the most successful coach in school history, he racked up 439 career wins with the Tigers, 251 of them being conference wins.
To say that Thomason set the standard for coaching in the Big West would be an understatement. While Jerry Tarkanian may have been the legend who led the Big West to greatness with UNLV, Thomason coached quietly: his players weren't the most athletic, but had a strong fundamental approach to the game. Throw that in with Thomason's track record of being focused on academics (96% of his players left with a degree) and you can make the bold statement that the Tigers coach was better than the Shark in many ways.
The game itself was close for the first 10 minutes before Pacific built a decent lead and didn't let go. After starting slowly, going 3-14 in the first six minutes of the game, the Tigers made 55% of their next 20 shots and didn't look back.
Despite UCI having the conference's best defense, the Anteaters couldn't hold back sixth man Tony Gill from scoring 19 points and Senior Lorenzo McCloud adding another 16. Daman Starring and Chris McNealy scored 19 and 12 points respectively to keep the Zots close, however last night's hero Alex Young only contributed five points, hurting UCI's chances.
Michael Wilder, UCI's all-time leader in 3-point field goals, only had 9 points tonight, as the Tigers were able to pressure "Afro Thunder" into 27.2% shooting from the field.
Pacific now awaits their seed and matchup for the NCAA tourney, while the Anteaters will most likely have no extracurricular postseason opportunities.