UC Irvine struck at the start, doubled its advantage after a half-hour Wednesday night and coasted into the Big West Conference tournament title game, where it will get a rematch with fellow power UC Santa Barbara.
Freshman Cameron Iwasa headed home a cross from Marco Franco (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS) just 35 seconds into the game, and Tarek Morad (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS and Mt. San Antonio College) finished a feed from Christian Hernandez (Palmdale/Palmdale HS) in the 31st minute as the 11th-ranked Anteaters (15-5-1) toppled UC Riverside, 2-0.
No. 15 UC Santa Barbara (14-5-1) advanced to Saturday's final with a 2-0 victory over visiting UC Davis.
Irvine, which won its second straight Big West regular-season title, will want to win at home Saturday night to clinch an NCAA berth after it was controversially left out of the field last year after an upset loss in the conference semifinals.
UC Riverside (9-6-4) likely completed a superb campaign that included two victories over UC Santa Barbara and another over UCI. The Highlanders are the Big West's best bet for a third NCAA invitation.
Sam Garza gave UCSB a 17th-minute lead, then fed Ghanaian sophomore David Opoku for a two-goal advantage 16 minutes into the second half. Dan Reese scored for UC Davis with 10½ minutes to go.
UCI won the regular-season meeting with the Gauchos, pulling out a 2-0 win Oct. 1 in Goleta on second-half goals by Miguel Ibarra (Lancaster/Lancaster HS) and Lester Hayes III.
In other men's action:
Conor McFadden scored 8½ minutes in, and San Diego held on for a 1-0 West Coast Conference victory in a defensive struggle at Loyola Marymount (7-11-1), which dropped three points behind the first-place Toreros with one game to go.
Loyola Marymount 0, San Diego 1 (McFadden 9)
UC Irvine 2 (Iwasa 1, Morad 31), UC Riverside 0
UC Santa Barbara 2 (Garza 17, Opoku 61), UC Davis 1 (Reese 80)
Home teams listed first