In their 16th-straight win, the No. 4 UC San Diego men’s basketball team (24–1, 18–1 CCAA) defeated the California State University, Los Angeles Golden Eagles 80–67 on Saturday, clinching at least a piece of their second-straight California Collegiate Athletic Association conference title. Despite trailing in the opening minutes of the game, the Tritons went on a 20–0 run and never looked back, even as the aggressive CSULAdefense made things chippy down the stretch.
As the last home contest of the regular season, Saturday’s match was also senior night, and redshirt senior guard Connor Peterson, senior forward Scott Everman, redshirt senior guard and forward Christian Oshita, and redshirt senior center Chris Hansen were honored before the match by teammates, friends, and family. After the tipoff, though, a pair of early Golden Eagle three-pointers had CSULA up 10–4 four minutes in. But Everman responded with 2 straight tough paint layups to regain momentum; on the next possession, redshirt sophomore guard Tyrell Roberts stole the ball, broke down the court, and hit a quick three to give the Tritons the lead, 11–10.
Soon after, with the Triton run at 14–0, CSULA junior guard Michael-Isaiah Ajiboye missed 2 straight free throws, failing to stop the run and further fueling UCSD’s momentum. On the next possession, redshirt junior guard Mikey Howell drove down the baseline for an open layup; then, he stole the inbounds pass, backed out to the three-point arc, and found junior forward Marek Sullivan cutting down the lane for an easy layup, the 20th consecutive Triton point. The Tritons kept their foot on the gas for the remainder of the half, ending the period on a 13–3 run, capped off by an Oshita three on an assist from the high post by Roberts. UCSD ended the half up 42–23, having outshot CSULA 65.4 percent to 29.2 percent in the period, and with 16 bench points to the Golden Eagles’ none.
“I thought we took care of the ball offensively; if we don’t turn it over, we got guys that can put it in the basket,” head coach Eric Olen said about the run. “After the first couple possessions, we settled down and did a nice job of making some plays defensively, forcing turnovers, and getting some easy ones in transition. Big runs like that typically come off the defensive end, and I thought that was the case for them tonight.”
The Golden Eagles came out of halftime playing an aggressive full-court press, disturbing the Tritons’ momentum — CSULA made two quick three-pointers to open the half, forcing Olen to call an early timeout to reorganize. Throughout the half, the press forced the Tritons into making rushed, long-range passes — but it also allowed them to find space with quick ball movement around a misaligned defense. But Roberts drained a pair of paint jumpers on consecutive possessions, and after a Golden Eagle triple, Sullivan found Oshita at the top of the arc for a three-pointer to go up 17. The Tritons would lead by double digits for the rest of the match, with a pair of threes from junior guard Gabe Hadley and one from Oshita maintaining the lead late. The Tritons dribbled out the final seconds of the clock to clinch the 80–67 win.
“Our guys mostly did a good job. When they disrupt the flow of the game with a style like that, it’s always an adjustment — especially when it happens halfway through, as opposed to doing that the whole game. [The Golden Eagles are] in a position where they don’t have a lot to lose,” Olen said about how the team dealt with an aggressive defense. “It’s not something we’ve seen a whole lot of this year because our guards are hard to pressure that way, and we shoot pretty well behind it, but when you’re behind you can make gambles like that.”
Oshita led the Tritons with 19 points and 9 rebounds, with Roberts and Hadley both coming up with 14 points each. The match only featured one lead change — just 5:26 into the first period —after which the Tritons were dominant on both sides of the ball. The win clinches at least a share of UCSD’s second straight CCAA title — if both California State Polytechnic University Pomona and California State University, San Bernardino fail to win out, the Tritons will hold the title alone.
After the game, Olen praised the team’s seniors. “Those four in particular really set the tone for us … To win a conference championship with two weeks left in the season is really difficult, and I think it speaks to their consistency and performance.”
The night was a special one for the seniors on the squad, as they were presented with framed jerseys and joined their families on the court before and after the game in celebration of their contributions to the team. “It was a fun experience. It was great to have my whole family out here, it was a lot of fun, and I’m just happy we got the win,” Oshita said.
With the momentum of a 16-game win streak at their backs, the Tritons will seek to enter the postseason on a high note, as they face four CCAA opponents on the road before they return to RIMAC Arena for the CCAA conference tournament, beginning on March 3.
As for the team’s approach going into the final stretch, Oshita said, “Just one game at a time, not thinking too far ahead in the future. We have goals in mind, but we just want to take each one as it comes.”