It may not be in the Big Dance but former Phoenix standout Alex Young is thrilled that the music to his first season at UC Irvine is still playing these days.
The Anteaters lost out on an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament last week after falling to Pacific in the Big West Tournament championship but still earned a chance to extend their season with an invitation to the fifth annual CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT).
WHO: A 6-foot-1 freshman point guard for the UC Irvine men's basketball team.
With one CIT victory already in the books courtesy of Wednesday's 80-71 win over High Point, Young and UC Irvine (21-15) will go in search of more Monday when they travel to face Oral Roberts (19-14). The second round game tips off at 5 p.m.
"Playing this deep into March is something we take pride in," said Young, who was named the Big West co-freshman of the year. "We just want to continue winning so we can keep playing. Our goal now is that we're trying to win this tournament, and all of our guys are on the same page and working hard toward that."
While there was some sting felt among the players that they were unable to reach the field of 68 for the NCAA tourney, it was easily swept under the rug as they focused on what they have accomplished this season.
"Of course it's disappointing sitting there on 'Selection Sunday' not seeing your team's name called and being on that (NCAA) bracket," said Young, "but playing in March is special, especially for this team right now. We're still striving to compete and we just want to win games as of right now."
UC Irvine is making its first postseason appearance in 11 years since participating in the NIT in the 2001-02 season, and Wednesday's victory was the first postseason win for the Anteaters since topping UCLA in the NIT opener in 1986.
Also of note, UC Irvine's 21 wins heading into Monday's game are tied for third-most in program history.
"The team has definitely grown throughout the season, which you expect from every team you've come in contact with, but each player has really taken pride in getting better during practice and even outside of that," said Young. "The biggest thing that's gotten us to this point is definitely our defense. We've taken a lot of pride in that and it definitely has shown of late."
The Anteaters have won nine of their last 11 games and 11 of the past 15, with Young's ascension at the point guard position playing a big role in those numbers.
The 6-foot-1, 176-pound guard owns the freshman single-season assist record with 142 and counting, and enters Monday's game averaging 9.4 points, 3.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. He finished the regular season ranked second in the Big West in assists (4.1 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6).
"I personally feel like I've grown each and every day and can credit that to my teammates and the coaching staff, and even working with my Dad (Will) when I went home over Christmas," said Young. "The team has put a lot of trust in me which I take pride in as the point guard, but I've definitely surprised myself this year with some of the things I've accomplished."
Young said there still seems to be an air of excitement around the campus about the men's basketball team, and that only continues to grow as they keep making strides in the CIT.
"A lot of people around town are talking about the great stepping stone this is and something for us to build on for the future," he said. "Personally, I want to send the seniors out on a good note."
"We definitely think the program is heading in the right direction," added Young, "and that's one of the biggest reasons why I'm here."
Oral Roberts defeated UT Arlington 84-76 on the road in the CIT first round behind 24 points from senior guard Warren Niles and 17 points and 11 rebounds from junior forward Steven Roundtree. The Golden Eagles, coached in his 14th year by Scott Sutton, also got 18 points from junior forward Shawn Glover and 15 points from senior forward Damen Bell-Holter.
The teams have only previously met in 1985 and '86, with each team earning one win.
Senior Daman Starring leads the Anteaters at 13.1 points per game, while sophomore post Will Davis II scored a career-high 32 points in Wednesday's win and junior Chris McNealy added 11 points. Young also had 10 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers in that game.
"We're looking forward to having the opportunity to play Oral Roberts on Monday," said Young, who carries a 3.1 GPA and wrapped up the winter quarter this week. "Our mindset is just to go out there and play as hard as we can so hopefully this doesn't have to end."