On Friday, the nationally ranked Tritons faced Cal State East Bay — 2-7 in conference, 3-10 overall — beating the Pioneers by their third closest margin this season.
“It wasn’t very pretty and East Bay played tremendously,” said head coach Charity Elliott. “I probably played a few people more minutes than I would have hoped but we got the win and that’s what we needed to do.”
The Tritons had won the 14 games prior to their bout against East Bay with an average scoring margin of 20 points.
The 84-73 result fell well below this watermark, but seemed to be a consequence of difficulties with rotation and transitioning back on defense.
Within the first ten minutes, the Tritons put together a ten-point lead, which was quickly whittled down to three after Elliott brought on underclassmen guards Megan Perry and Miranda Seto.
Elliott was forced to replace senior All-American guard Chelsea Carlisle and starting forward Erin Dautremont back on the court.
Junior guard Emily Osga immediately hit a jumper to put UCSD up by five, after which Carlisle picked up one of her three steals on the night to put in a layup.
With the starting five back on the court, UCSD manufactured a 14-point run, to end the half with a 17-point lead.
“[Carlisle] did an amazing job tonight of settling us down and getting a basket when East Bay went on a run,” said Elliot. “[Carlisle] hit some tough shots, or made the great pass for an easy basket.”
Carlisle finished the game with 20 points on a career high of 12 assists, while senior forward Lauren Freidenberg recorded 20 points and eight rebounds.
But the Tritons would not get much out of their bench for the rest of the night, with Cal State East Bay’s reserves outscoring the Triton bench 33-7.
The Pioneers staged a comeback late in the game, led by junior forward Marlene MacMillan and sophomore forward Cassie Coble, who cut the Tritons’ 17-point lead down to eight. But UCSD would maintain the advantage to take its fifteenth straight win.
On Saturday, UCSD met with the only other undefeated team in the conference in No. 24 Cal State Monterey Bay, beating the Otters 63-91.
Last season, Cal State Monterey Bay won the CCAA tournament with a 20-2 conference record.
In the first meeting between the two teams, the Otters took an 11-point lead.
“We knew [Cal State Monterey Bay] would come in and attack us hard. And they did,” said Elliot. “I thought our team did great in keeping their composure. We went down by 11 [points], and we just kept chipping away and tried to be consistent.”
Down 11 points, 12 minutes into the game, the Tritons kept in contact with the Otters, steadily breaking down the lead with contributions from all over the UCSD roster.
And by the end of the half, UCSD manufactured a 15-point swing, leading by four going into the second half.
“We started turning up a bit of our intensity. Defensively, we just had a little sense of urgency, contesting shots, rebounding,” said Elliot. “[CSU Monterey Bay’s] a phenomenal offensive rebounding team. I thought we did a good job of containing and controlling that part of it, and then we just started running.”
On Saturday, the Tritons stuck to their full-court man-to-man defense.
UCSD buries teams that can’t keep up with the breakneck pace of the run and gun style, leading the conference in both total points per game, with an average of 80.8 points.
And against the Otters, quick substitutions and commitment to full-court defense kept the Tritons in the first half.
“Tonight we did try and get a few more people in, even in shorter spurts to maybe get us a little more rest. [Luzar] did a great job coming in tonight. [White and Seto] gave us some very quality minutes,” said Elliot. “We still believe we’re in as good a shape as anybody in the country, and as we kept running, we became more and more successful as the game went on.”
UCSD took the momentum into the second half, shooting 54 percent from the field, compared to the Otters’ paltry 28 percent, and never conceded the lead.
Four Tritons recorded in double-figures, with Osga leading UCSD with 22 points on eight of 10 shooting. Carlisle — named the CCAA Player of the Week for the second time this season — chipped in 16 points, while Freidenberg and Feder contributed 18 and 15 points respectively.
Undefeated in the 2012 season, the Tritons have not yet reached the midway point in conference play.
UCSD will host its next six games, facing Sonoma State on Friday, Jan. 20 and Humboldt State on Saturday, Jan. 21.