UC Irvine may have had the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation this season but the Anteaters could not survive a record-breaking effort from Long Beach State in the the Big West Conference tournament semifinals Friday night.
The 49ers shattered their school record with 17 three-point baskets, including a desperation shot from Aaron Nixon at the buzzer, in a 75-73 victory over second-seeded Irvine at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Nixon finished with a game-high 28 points, including six three-point baskets, senior Jibril Hodges scored 18 points on six three-pointers and Shawn Hawkins added 16 points, including four three-pointers, for third-seeded Long Beach, which will face No. 1-seeded Pacific in tonight's championship game.
When Long Beach faced Irvine a week ago, the visiting 49ers won, 93-73, after trailing by 21 points less than eight minutes into the game. There were no runs like that on Friday.
Long Beach, which made only 34% of its three-point attempts during the regular season, hurt the Anteaters behind the shooting of Nixon, Hodges and Hawkins, who each made three three-pointers in the first half.
The 49ers made 10 of 17 from behind the arc to help them stay close to UC Irvine, which shot 64.3% from the field and led, 45-38, at the break.
Led by forward Patrick Sanders, who had eight points and four rebounds, the Anteaters controlled the paint in the first half, outscoring Long Beach, 24-2.
In the second half, the 49ers' hot perimeter shooting continued no matter what strategy Irvine tried.
Irvine (16-13), which was led by Ross Schraeder's 17 points, still was in position to win when Shamar Armstrong scored to give the Anteaters a 73-72 lead with 15.1 seconds remaining, but Nixon's heroics ended their NCAA tournament hopes.