MEN’S BASKETBALL — The Triton Men’s Basketball team struggled through winter break as the season reached a crisis point.
Last Friday, the Tritons dropped to 1-6 in conference, losing in overtime to Chico 78-72. The following day, UCSD fell again in Turlock, as it trailed Cal State Stanislaus 66-56 when the final buzzer brought the game to an end and the Tritons fell to 1-7 in the CCAA.
At the beginning of the season, Coach Carlson emphasized that the strength of the UCSD program was in its recruitment of athletes that are more intelligent than the competition.
Not only does the average UC San Diego student score over 200 points higher than their CCAA counterparts on the SAT, Carlson said that they also had better basketball smarts.
That is, the ability to know what to do in game-time situations in order to win.
This strength, coupled with a good work ethic and an emphasis on defense, was how UCSD was going to win games against schools with larger recruiting budgets and lower admissions standards.
Sitting in the meat of the season, the Tritons have not followed through on their preseason promise.
Last Friday against Cal State Stanislaus, the Tritons played well enough to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors
Junior Tyler McGrath had the best game of his career, scoring 19 points while shooting 33 percent from behind the arc and sinking six of his seven free throws.
Senior Mike Meza also contributed 15 points to go along with sophomore James McCann’s 14 points and five assists.
But the boards have been the root of what is truly hurting the Tritons. McGrath, a shooting guard, totaled five rebounds — as many as center Christian Hatch — and the Warriors out-rebounded the Tritons 29-46.
This discrepancy allowed for the Warriors to shoot an atrocious 29 percent from the field, because they were
always getting second looks at the basket.
Cal State Stanislaus’ big gun, senior 6’9” center Reggie Jones, scored 31 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.
He also managed to largely shut down Triton senior as well, team points and rebounding leader Christian Hatch, who finished with only nine points and five rebounds, compared to his usual double-double.
In overtime, the Tritons lost on free throws as they hacked at Cal State Stanislaus into hitting 14 of 18 from the line.
Last Saturday against Chico State, the Triton defense fell apart, allowing the Wildcats to shoot 48 percent from the field and hit 11 of 20 three-pointers, 55 percent from behind the arc.
At the beginning of the year, Coach Carlson said that if the team could play defense, it could run with any team in the country.
The Triton defense has not lived up to expectations, and without a superstar offense, the Tritons have struggled to keep pace with the more talented and more athletic CCAA teams.
With the win, Chico improves to 5-3 in the CCAA while UCSD drops to 1-7.
Senior Justin Brue finished with his first career double-double with the kind of hustle that the Tritons need from every player in order to win, scoring 12 points and pulling down 10 boards.
Hatch meanwhile had 12 points and six rebounds. He struggled from the floor, making only 3 of 10, but made it up from the free-throw line where he sank six for six.
Second Team All-CCAA last year, Wildcat senior Jay Flores led the game in scoring with 17, hitting three three-pointers — two of them back-to-back down the stretch to solidify Chico’s hold on the lead and shift momentum away from the Tritons for good.
The Tritons did rebound better in the game, nabbing 28 boards to Chico’s 29, but the defense was so poor that the Wildcat offense rarely missed anyways.
In the end, basketball comes down to which team can put the ball in the basket more times than the other team can.
The Triton men’s team has failed to hustle, box out and make short layups, resulting in massive rebounding deficits and subsequent losses. Athletically, there is no excuse for being out-rebounded.
A 5 ft. guard can box out Yao Ming. Rebounds are either the result of height and athleticism or discipline from everyone on the court to commit to boxing out on every shot.
Quite simply, as of late, the Tritons have fallen short on all counts.
UCSD now needs to prepare for its next game on Friday against Cal State East Bay, 4-3 in conference play.
The Pioneers have shown flashes of brilliance this year, beating No. 6 nationally ranked Cal Poly Pomona two weeks ago.
The Tritons will have a big test matching up against junior guard Mark Samuels, who throws up big points and dishes the ball well.
However, the Pioneers do not have any starters over 6’5”. The Tritons should out-rebound Cal State Stanislaus, which has no good players over 6’5; they should be able to drop the ball down to Hatch for some easy points and they should out-rebound the Pioneers for the win.
But those are some dubious “should’s.”