SAN JOSE, Calif. — For only the second time ever, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will include an anteater.
That would be Peter the Anteater, mascot of 13th-seeded UC Irvine, which on Friday will play the pedestrian-named and fourth-seeded Kansas State Wildcats in a first-round matchup.
Evan Leonard, a freshman guard for UC Irvine, said the Anteaters “stack up well” against the entire 64-team field — in terms of mascots.
“It’s very unique,’’ Leonard said Thursday. “We usually like to take off the “Ant” and just say ‘Eaters.’ So I feel like Eater Nation, stuff like that, is pretty cool.’’
Added UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway, “Yeah, we got a one-of-a-kind mascot. I don’t know any other school in the country that’s got an anteater.’’
Blue Devils, Terrapins, Bulldogs, the list goes on and on, but the only Anteaters are UC Irvine, with their 16-game winning streak, 30-5 record, Big West championship and distinction from all others.
“There are no other Anteaters anywhere,’’ UC Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “We’re unique. We’re fun. We get people’s attention, and I love that because I feel like our university could use more positive exposure.’’
The Anteaters made their only other NCAA tournament appearance in 2015, when then-No. 13 seed UC Irvine almost upset fourth-seeded Louisville before losing 57-55. The game briefly put the spotlight on UC Irvine and the sloth-like animal that consumes ants and termites.
“You know, growing up in Virginia, I didn’t know anything about UC Irvine, but being a part of it now, I know what an incredible place it is,’’ Turner said. “Our Anteater is special like that, too. So I appreciate you acknowledging our mascot. We look forward to representing.”