In preparation for the regular season, the UC San Diego men’s basketball team ventured out of its comfort zone and NCAA Division II schedule this past week. The Tritons went on the road to take on a pair of Division I opponents: the San Diego State University Aztecs and the UC Irvine Anteaters. Though the Tritons lost both games, 86–51 to SDSU and 80–64 to UCI, the goal of preseason exhibitions is to gain experience against stiff competition, and they did just that.
“It’s a terrific environment in terms of getting better,” said head coach Eric Olen after the loss to SDSU. “That’s as talented a team as we’ll see on the season.”
Over the course of the two games, the Tritons had the chance to test different lineup combinations involving both transfers and UCSD returners who are vying for increased roles this season.
To open their season, the Tritons took on the Aztecs at Viejas Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 30. In the 35-point loss, UCSD shot a lowly 28.8 percent from the field. Most shockingly, the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s best three-point shooting team from a year ago struggled from behind the arc. The Tritons shot just 22.5 percent from deep on the night, emphasizing that despite returning many starters, this year’s team still has a long way to go in creating an identity.
“Every team is different and this one has not shot the ball well in two games,” said Olen. “Some of that is execution and the shots that we’re getting and some of that is just guys that can make shots haven’t made them, but whatever performance we’ve had in the past doesn’t help us now.”
Despite the lopsided score and overall poor offensive performance, there were a few bright spots on the night. Redshirt senior guard/forward Christian Oshita paced the team in scoring with 20 points on 7-10 shooting. He emerged as the star right from the outset, hitting his first two shots of the night to keep things close at the start of the game. Oshita’s early barrage kept the Tritons in the game, but once he and the starters came out, the Aztecs went on a 12–0 run to effectively seal the deal.
“[Oshita] is a guy who’s been a consistent performer for us for a few years and we can count on him to show up and play hard,” Olen said.
At the end of the first half, Oshita had gone 5–7 from three-point range, while the rest of the team had gone 0–14. Most of the team’s problems stemmed from being beaten inside. In the first half, the Tritons were outscored 22–4 inside the paint, which helped SDSU lock down the three-point perimeter.
Despite more missed three-pointers, a few Tritons came off of the bench and shined in the second half. Redshirt freshman guard Lunden Taylor hit a pair of heavily contested layups in traffic in the second half; junior forward Martin Tombe went 2–2 from three and had eight points in the second half; junior forward Marek Sullivan, a transfer from Palomar College, chipped in with a steal, block, and an emphatic transition dunk in a solid all-around half.
“We’re a deep team and we’ve got a lot of options,” said Olen. “Those guys played well and took advantage of the opportunity.”
The interior woes dissipated to an extent against Irvine, as redshirt senior center Chris Hansen dominated the paint with a game-high of 21 points, though the Tritons still lost the rebounding battle 44–35.
With the exhibition season over, hopefully, the Tritons can iron out the wrinkles and regain the inside-out offense that gave CCAA opponents trouble all season long a year ago.