Cal Poly guard Dave Nwaba, left, celebrates with forward Zach Gordon and… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)
The seventh-seeded team got shot to seventh heaven Saturday night when Cal Poly defeated Cal State Northridge, 61-59, to win the Big West tournament championship at Honda Center.
The Mustangs (13-19) lost nine of their last 11 regular-season games before winning three straight in Anaheim to earn the school's first NCAA tournament bid.
In three days, Cal Poly defeated No. 2 UC Santa Barbara, No. 1 UC Irvine and No. 5 Northridge to become the lowest-seeded Big West team to win the conference tournament.
Freshman guard Ridge Shipley was the hero as he sank the game-winning three-pointer with 13 seconds left.
Northridge thought it had taken the lead back with 4.6 seconds left, but forward Tre Hale-Edmerson was called for a charging foul on a made basket.
Northridge quickly fouled Poly guard Kyle Odister, who made his first free throw but missed his second.
Northridge forward J.J. Thomas grabbed the rebound with about three seconds left but the clock expired before he could get off a final shot.
Chris Eversley led Cal Poly with 18 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player. David Nwaba scored 17 and Shipley finished with 14.
The players led a postgame celebration that was clad in Poly green.
They didn't play "One Shining Moment" at the end of game but could have piped in Frank Sinatra singing "grab your coat and get your hat."
Earning an NCAA bid is great, but now come the frequent-flier miles.
The Big West champion was headed to the "play-in" game in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday or Wednesday, as soon the Poly-Northridge matchup was official.
The concept of allowing most teams to compete for the NCAA title produces excitement, upsets and sometimes a conference championship game featuring schools with a combined record of 29-36.
In the NCAA's expanded format, that means sometimes letting in teams with losing records.
Cal State Northridge (which finished 17-18) gave it a good run and the "Matadors" may be remembered as the "Midnight Ramblers" after pulling off successive upsets well after East Coast midnight.
Thursday, Northridge won a thrilling 87-84 overtime verdict over No. 4 Hawaii. Few people noticed because the game ended at 10:56 PDT.
A day later, night-watch Northridge did it again, taking down No. 3 Long Beach, 82-77, in another thriller that ended at 11:17 p.m.
"Everywhere we go we're the underdog," first-year Northridge Coach Reggie Theus said after Friday's win. "Everywhere we go people are picking the other team. I think that's good for us."
Not so fast, Reggie . . .
Coffee-addled NCAA bracket experts, surely considering only the win-loss records, predicted a Northridge win even though Cal Poly had defeated the Matadors four straight times entering Saturday's game.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Big West champ at Dayton playing Mount St. Mary's, with the winner tracking to play No. 1 Wichita State in the Midwest Regional. CBS' Jerry Palm had the Big West playing the SWAC champ with the winner getting No. 1 Florida in the South.
Saturday's Big West title game featured schools with a combined Ratings Percentage Index rating of 467.
Cal Poly (222) can take some pride knowing it will not be the lowest RPI-rated team to make the tournament.
That distinction belongs to Liberty, No. 287 last year when it won the Big South.
The odds for the Big West champion, of course, are longer than UC Irvine's 7-foot-6 center.
The Dayton play-in survivor will be the No. 16 representative against one of the top overall seeds, likely Wichita State or Florida.
For what it's worth: No. 16 is 0-116 against No. 1 since the field was expanded to 64 in 1985.
Cal Poly trailed 15-5 early and couldn't seem to locate the basket. You could argue the Mustangs weren't used to shooting against short guys one night after successfully floating in baby jump shots over Irvine's 7-6 center Momadau Ndiyae.
Eversely's basket ended a three-for-18 shooting stretch and seemed to wake the Mustangs up. They closed the half hard and trailed by four.
Eversley also provided Cal Poly its first lead, on a basket with 18:42 to play.
Stephen Maxwell led Northridge with 18 points.