In front of possibly the largest crowd UCSD has ever played in front of for an exhibition game, the Tritons tipped off against SDSU — last season’s Division I Mountain West champion — this Monday, Nov. 5.
Serving as a warm-up for the preseason, SDSU took the 80–56 win — not an overwhelming margin for a 2011 “sweet 16” team. The Tritons faced the Aztecs on the heels of the CCAA preseason coaches’ poll, in which UCSD was picked to finish 11th in a 12-team conference.
“I don’t really pay a lot of attention to that,” UCSD Head Coach Chris Carlson said.
“Obviously it’s more important how you finish, and our goal is to make the postseason.”
At the start, Carlson sent out the five men who will likely serve as the starters for the duration of the season to meet SDSU. The Aztecs took advantage of a Triton squad that was clearly on its heels to take an 11–3 lead within the first four minutes. UCSD stemmed the bleeding with contributions from junior guards James McCann and MacKenzie McCullough coming off the bench.
Triton guards, senior Tyler McGrath, McCann and, alternately junior Matt Bailey and McCullough, matched up surprisingly well with the Aztec backcourt. UCSD needed to produce from the perimeter to stay close, as starting guards senior Justin Brue and sophomore Brandon Blanchard went 1-9 and 2-9, respectively, on the night. The only Triton forward to post respectable numbers was freshman Drew Dyer, who went 4-6 in field goal shooting, including 3-4 from behind the arc.
“Our shooting is going to improve,” Carlson said. “I think we took some good shots, and I think typically we’re not going to get 1-for-9 from Justin Brue.”
Although the frontcourt was unable to produce, UCSD — eighth in the conference for rebounds last season — showed markedly well on the boards. The Tritons ended the night with 33 rebounds to SDSU’s 35. Improvement on the boards, a clear gap in UCSD’s game last season, is sure to help UCSD in the CCAA, and a number of the Triton newcomers had promising games. Along with Dyer, UCSD’s top scorer of the night, freshman forward Zach McMillan seems a solid addition.
“The one thing about this group is the effort has been there throughout,” Carlson said. “If we can work on our execution, I think we’re really going to be in good shape.”
The Tritons’ first preseason match is scheduled for this Friday, Nov. 9 against Dixie State College of Utah at the Dixie State Classic.
“We have a very challenging schedule,” Carlson said. “Dixie State is a difficult team to play against, and it’s going to be tough because they’re a pretty talented group.”
UCSD begins conference play on Nov. 24 against CSU San Bernardino on the road.