UC Irvine men's basketball team will not be making its first NCAA tournament appearance.
This is not the year to finally fear the Anteater.
Top-seeded Pacific jumped to an early lead Saturday night and never lost it on its way to a 64-55 win in the Big West championship game before a crowd of 6,795 at the Honda Center.
Pacific (22-12) led by as many as 13 points in the second half when Irvine (20-15) got energized after Will Davis II jammed in a jarring dunk off a lob pass from Michael Wilder.
Two more Irvine baskets cut the lead to six and forced a timeout with 13:35 left.
Irvine, though, later cut the lead to three on Daman Starring's three-pointer.
The Anteaters, however, could never get closer. Pacific made enough free throws in the final few minutes to seal the win.
The Tigers are headed back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.
Tony Gill led Pacific with 19 points while Starring led Irvine with 19.
Pacific led by 11 at the half. Irvine managed only 20 points while making only seven of 27 shots (25.9%). The Anteaters were one for 10 on their three-point attempts.
The only good first-half news for Irvine was the return of senior forward Adam Folker, who missed the last four games with a leg injury suffered at a March 6 practice. Folker averaged 15.8 points in his last four games but scored only two first-half points in 10 minutes.
Saturday's winner faces long odds, as a No. 15 or 16, in the NCAA tournament field.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi on Saturday night had the Big West champion (he projected Pacific) playing No. 2 Miami at the East subregional in Lexington, Ky. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com projected Pacific in the West playing New Mexico in Salt Lake City.
It's too bad one team had to lose because both had first-week NCAA tournament stories worth telling.
Pacific players were making one last run for Coach Bob Thomason, retiring this year after 25 seasons in Stockton.
The 63-year-old Thomason entered Saturday's game with a 435-322 overall record, while his 248 Big West victories ranked most in conference history.
Thomason was recruited to Pacific by former coach Dick Edwards and averaged 17.2 points per game before the advent of the three-point clock.
He was named head coach in 1988 and has been in Stockton since.
Thomason isn't the sentimental type and was focused this week on getting his team through the Big West tournament.
Pacific drew Thursday's noon opener at Honda Center.
"I sure hope I'm not going back to Stockton at 3 o'clock," Thomason said on Monday's pre-tournament conference call.
His team had a destiny look through two games. After a three-point quarterfinal win over UC Santa Barbara, Pacific advanced to the championship game at 2 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday when Travis Fulton's put-back shot with one second left gave the Tigers a two-point win over Cal Poly.
At least Pacific had played in eight previous NCAA tournaments.
UC Irvine had gone bone dry since the school opened with 1,600 students in 1965.
Irvine has won 27 national team championships in nine sports, with the men's volleyball team winning the NCAA title last May.
Kevin Magee, a transfer from Saddleback, averaged 26.3 points per game from 1980-82 and was named a first-team All-American. Magee scored a school-record 46 points against Loyola Marymount in 1981.
The Anteaters won a school record 25 games in 2000-01 but still didn't make the NCAA tournament.