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UC Irvine has its own version of Sister Jean

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SportsPulse: Saturday was all chalk for the most part with Ja Morant and Murray State bowing out of the tournament. Trysta Krick recaps the action and looks ahead to Sunday’s slate.
USA TODAY

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Sister Jean is one of a kind.

But the 13th-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters, bidding to become the Cinderella of this year’s NCAA tournament, jokingly claim they have a “secret weapon” similar to the 99-year-old chaplain of the Loyola Chicago basketball team who became a breakout star last year when the 11th-seeded Ramblers reached the Final Four.

Uncle Blaine, they now call him.

That would be Blaine Taylor, UC Irvine’s 61-year-old assistant coach who on Saturday showed side-by-side photos of himself and Sister Jean that someone texted him.

“If you can’t tell us apart, I’m a little bit hurt,” Taylor said with a smile. “I don’t feel like I’m that old, but I am an uncle and I am a grandfather. I’ve got five grandkids.”

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The gag started on Selection Sunday, when UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner stood in front of his team and fans at the school’s alumni center and noted that Loyola Chicago had created “special momentum” during last year’s tournament. UC Irvine entered this year’s tournament having won 16 games in a row.

“They had a secret weapon and it was Sister Jean,” Turner recalled saying. “And our secret weapon just might be Uncle Blaine.’’

Laughter followed, but no one’s laughing at UC Irvine anymore. 

On Friday, the Anteaters beat fourth-seeded Kansas State 70-64 for the school’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory. On Sunday, with a chance to reach the Sweet 16, the Anteaters will play 12th-seeded Oregon at the SAP Center.

Turner has credited “Uncle Blaine,” who as a head coach before joining UC Irvine’s staff made six trips to the NCAA tournament, won five conference tournament championships and two coach of the year awards.

“Having Blaine as an assistant coach, putting a value on that is nearly impossible,” Turner said. “The man knows how to win. He has special qualities. Sister Jean has special qualities too.”

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