Chima Moneke and UC Davis are dancing for the first time after winning the Big West tournament, holding off regular season champions UC Irvine 50-47. They are just one of a number of teams boasting Australians who have earned automatic bids to play in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
MVP Moneke Dancing
While Moneke was unable to deliver the big numbers in the final as he had all tournament, and in fact all season, he played a vital role in ensuring that UC Davis would win the Big West Tournament and go dancing for the first time.
The 6'6 forward from Australia's capital got into early foul trouble, however he would still contribute 9 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal and 3 blocks in a tight, low-scoring affair. Just a week ago, it was UC Irvine who dismantled their rivals from the final, how things can turn around so quickly.
The Aggies edged ahead and looked to be clear heading into the final 5 minutes of the contest. However the Anteaters would fight back to close to with just a single basket. Cool heads prevailed for the Aggies down the stretch, who are now dancing for the first time in their 10-year Division I history.
For UC Davis, they earned their chance to win the Big West Tournament for the first time after a thrilling overtime victory in their semifinal against Cal State Fullerton. Moneke came up huge for the Aggies in that game. He was also in the right place at the right time to tip-in the game-winner at the buzzer in overtime to clinch the semifinal 66-64 in amazing fashion. He ended the semifinal with 19 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocked shots to be the most dominant player in the game. This followed an 11 point, 18 rebound, and 2 block performance in a 66-55 win against Cal Poly in the opening game.
Moneke would wrap up his outstanding tournament by being named MVP after averaging 13 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. The junior transfer's award followed his selection to the All-Conference First Team and in being named Newcomer of the Year. He can now also add 2017 NCAA Tournament participant to his list of achievements for 2017.
Pinder and White book tickets
#7 ranked Arizona powered their way into the final of the Pac-12 Championship, accounting for Colorado 92-78 and then a massive win over #3 ranked UCLA 86-75 to set up a date with #5 Oregon. Keanu Pinder had to earn his time on the court for the Wildcats, as nothing comes easy in the Pac-12 this season!
Against an Oregon side in the final who were missing senior forward Chris Boucher due to an ACL injury, Arizona took advantage by attacking the rim. They would be able to open up a 35-29 half-time lead. The Wildcats were playing outstanding defense, at one stage leading by as many as 14 points. Yet Oregon are a quality side, and would fight their way back into the contest. Behind some hot-shooting, the Ducks closed to within 2 points with just 29 seconds left to play. However Arizona held firm at the line to record a much-deserved 83-80 victory and along with it, the Pac-12 Championship.
In what was arguably the biggest game of his career, the 6'9 Pinder played an important role in the final, coming off the bench to shoot 2-of-2 from the field for 4 points and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes. The son of former Perth Wildcats NBL star Kendall 'Tiny' Pinder, Keanu is now making a name for himself and will soon be on college basketball's biggest stage on a team with a realistic chance of being named a #1 seed.
Unlike Pinder, freshman forward Jack White did not manage to see any court time during the ACC tournament. However just like Pinder, he too his going dancing.
While the Pac-12 is tough, the ACC is tougher. #14 ranked Duke had to go through #10 Louisville, #6 North Carolina and then #22 Notre Dame to secure the ACC title, in doing so becoming the first team to win the event with four victories in four days. In the final they came back from trailing by 8 points with over 11 minutes to play, to eventually fight back to win 75-69.
Moneke, Pinder and White join Xavier Cooks and Winthrop who have all won their respective conference tournaments to earn automatic bids to the 2017 NCAA Tournament. #8 Kentucky and Isaac Humphries also have a shot at winning the SEC Tournament, they face Arkansas in the final. Win or lose, the Wildcats will be expected to receive an at-large bid.
There will be more Aussies will be joining them too, with Jo Lual-Acuil Jr (#9 Baylor), Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang (#10 Louisville), Gorjok Gak (#17 Florida), the seven Aussies at #19 Saint Mary's, and Dejan Vasiljevic (Miami), all expecting to hear their teams called out on 'Selection Sunday' in earning at-large bids. Combined, they will ensure that there will be plenty of Aussies in March Madness!