UCSD Looks to Be Surprise Contenders in Conference

    Henry Patterson, the Tritons’ leading scorer and rebounder last season, helped UCSD earn the CCAA title. The Tritons will look to their experienced seniors to fill the hole in the frontcourt that Patterson leaves. (Sanh Luong/Guardian File)

    MEN’S BASKETBALL — Last season, the Tritons set program records twice for consecutive wins at the Division-II level, recorded their first victory against a Division-I opponent and found themselves in a first-place tie in the California Collegiate Athletic Association late in the season. Unfortunately, the team lost its final five regular season home games and seemed to have no momentum heading into the CCAA Tournament. However, despite their low seeding, the Tritons rebounded, rolling off three straight wins to capture their first-ever CCAA Championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time at the Division-II level.

    Head coach Chris Carlson, who came from UCLA and helped guide the team to unprecedented success in his first season as a head coach, will now look to build on last year’s accomplishments. Obviously, losing five seniors from the 2007-08 team, including former all-CCAA honorees forward Henry Patterson, guard Clint Allard and former CCAA Freshman of the Year guard Andrew Hatch will change the Triton squad’s makeup. Despite the departures, Carlson seems hopeful about the outlook for this year’s team.

    “Every team has its own identity, and we’re trying to carve that out right now,” Carlson said. “I feel very strong about this year’s team. I like how far we’ve progressed, how hard we’ve worked in practice and we’re going to continue to do that. We need guys, our senior group in particular, to really step up. I have high expectations for that group and for our team as a whole.”

    This year’s squad will definitely have experience on its side as it is the most senior-laden group in recent UCSD history. Seven players will be entering their final season in a UCSD uniform, including four-year letterwinners guard Shane Poppen, forward Darryl Lawlor and center A.J. Maulhardt as well as point guard Kelvin Kim, one of only two players to start every game last season. Kim, another UCLA transfer, has embraced his own role as a leader and teacher for the Triton newcomers.

    “I feel like I have a lot more responsibility this year,” Kim said. “We have a lot of freshmen on the team, so I’m trying to do my best in teaching them the ropes and making the adjustment as smooth as possible for them. I know that the faster they come along, the better that we will be this year and for the years to come.”

    Kim also said that his first year in Triton blue and gold left him better prepared for his final collegiate basketball season and the year under coach Carlson has helped the team grow closer and more perceptive of one another.

    “We have a lot of experienced players on our team, especially the returning guys from last year’s team,” he said. “I know that we are a lot hungrier to go deeper into the playoffs this season after getting a taste of it last season. Just being one year older as a group has helped with our chemistry on the court. I know that I have a better idea of the instincts of my teammates and I’m sure that they have a good understanding of mine as well.”

    Six freshman will be joining the seven seniors on this year’s squad, looking not only to step into a void that will be left next season by an even larger graduating class, but to grasp the system quickly this year and contribute immediately. Carlson is looking for players who understand his coaching philosophy and exhibit their determination in practice.

    Even though the Tritons will not have former All-CCAA honoree Clint Allard on the court this season, they will have the graduated Triton on the bench as he recently joined the staff as an assistant coach. (Sanh Luong/Guardian File)

    “Our focus as a program is always on defense and rebounding,” Carlson said. “I think that’s where championships are won. I think that’s what we tried to do last year, in terms of guarding people, getting stops when we needed and trying to block out and rebound.”

    Regarding his starting five this season, Carlson said it is too early to discuss the player rotation.

    “The guys who play the best and give their best at practice are the guys who are going to play,” he said.

    The first step for the Tritons this season will be their annual meeting with Division-I opponent San Diego State. Last season, UCSD gave a glimpse of its future success by pushing the Aztecs throughout the game. The Tritons held a lead deep into the first half and were able to cut the SDSU advantage to single digits before falling by a 76-60 final score. Carlson said the test provided by SDSU is valuable for the Tritons.

    “I think it’s always a great game for the university, our program and the basketball community as a whole in San Diego,” Carlson said. “I think without question San Diego State will always be one of the better teams we play throughout the season. It’s a really good gage for us. They’re very long, very athletic, very well-coached and I think in many respects they’re similar to a lot of other teams we’ll play during the season in terms of athleticism.”

    Following its meeting with the Aztecs, UCSD will face University of the Pacific, another Division-I opponent, followed by nonconference matchups with Notre Dame de Namur and Central Washington. The Tritons will then begin their conference schedule and the defense of their CCAA crown at home against Humboldt State. Picked in the preseason coaches’ poll to finish, the Tritons will again be looking to surprise the league.

    “Obviously, winning the CCAA is one of our first goals, especially since winning our conference ensures that we will be given a high seed in regionals,” Kim said. “From there, trying to go as deep into the playoffs as we can. I know that both of these things are attainable because we have the personnel and commitment to do it.”

    Carlson agrees that despite personnel changes, this year’s squad is still focused on returning to postseason competition, while also serving as a strong reflection of the campus.

    “We want to be one of the better teams in the CCAA and we want to try and put ourselves in a situation where we can be a postseason performer,” Carlson said. “We want to just be a good representative of UCSD. It’s a first-rate university, and we want to be a first-rate basketball program.”
    The team’s first test comes this Saturday at Cox Arena against SDSU. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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