On the road against UC Santa Barbara (8–3, 4–2 Big West) on Jan. 15 and 16, UC San Diego (2–3, 0–2 Big West) finally reached their long-awaited Big West debut, but the Tritons fell to the Gauchos in both games of this back-to-back series, 69–52 and 84–53.
The tumult of early season postponements and cancellations for the UCSD men’s basketball program fortunately did not affect these games, but it has given the majority of other Big West teams a head start on conference matchups. UCSD, already tasked with making the jump to Division I competition, faced a tall task playing an experienced UCSB squad.
On Friday, Jan. 15, the first matchup between these squads, the teams began the game on relatively even footing. UCSB took a 35–30 halftime lead, with both senior forward Hugh Baxter and freshman guard Bryce Pope leading the Tritons with eight points apiece.
The game would be kept close for the beginning of the second half, with a decisive 6–0 run coming to increase UCSB’s lead to nine points at the midpoint of the second half. UCSD would hang around with strong efforts from Pope and junior forward Toni Rocak, but it would not be enough as UCSB would end up victorious, with a final score of 69–52.
Although UCSD would not come out of their first Big West battle with a victory, there were some bright spots.
As head coach Eric Olen said to UCSD Athletics following the first game, “I thought that we played well for stretches and we did some good things, but ultimately they made a few more plays and we weren’t able to take care of the ball well enough or rebound the ball well enough to get the result we were looking for.”
In the rematch the following day, the matchup turned out to be much more one-sided. UCSD would hold the lead for the last time at 4–2 with two minutes having elapsed, but the Gauchos would jump out to a 24-point lead at halftime.
The second half would only increase the deficit, as UCSB would finish with a resounding 84–53 victory over the Tritons. Rocak was one of the few bright spots in this one for UCSD, coming off the bench to record 16 points on 6/11 shooting to go along with seven rebounds.
This result means it’ll be back to the drawing board for coach Olen, who told UCSD Athletics his takeaways: “We’ve got to learn from it and hopefully the experience of playing a really good team like that will make us better going forward, make us more prepared for our next opponent.”
After a sobering inaugural Big West road trip, UCSD heads home for a back-to-back matchup with UC Davis Jan. 22 and 23 to again try to capture their first ever victory in conference play.
Photo courtesy of UC San Diego Athletics