UC San Diego’s men’s basketball (3–4, 1–3 Big West) came away with one win and one loss in their series against UC Davis, making their conference home debut. By a score of 89–69, UCSD notched their first ever Big West Conference win, as well as their first win against a Division I opponent. In the latter half of the back-to-back on Jan. 23, UCSD would drop a close one with UC Davis, losing 78–71.
After getting a rude awakening in the Big West by way of two losses to UC Santa Barbara the week before, UCSD came into this series with something to prove. The first game of the series started close with hot shooting on both sides. A small UCSD lead would grow to 14 thanks to a 10–0 run that began with 10 minutes to go in the first half, with senior forward Hugh Baxter scoring eight of those points and assisting on the other basket. The Tritons would never look back, taking a 41–28 lead into the half.
But the Tritons would not be satisfied, quickly putting the game out of reach with a 22–8 run to start the second half. Balanced scoring from each of the starters, along with junior forward Toni Rocak and freshman guard Jace Roquemore off the bench, would help propel this run, eventually bringing the advantage to a massive 30 points with a three-pointer from senior guard Gabe Hadley. With victory all but assured, the Tritons held on for the final minutes to earn their first Division I victory, 89–69.
Seven made threes and 29 points from Hadley on 10-of-13 shooting would lead the Tritons for the game, with Baxter adding 21 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Hadley, Baxter, and Roquemore all had career scoring highs in the 20-point victory, and the team as a whole shot 67.9 percent from the field, a record under coach Eric Olen — just more significant milestones on a big day for the UCSD program.
“It was great to knock off the first D-I win… We had a good week of practice, and I think it showed on the floor tonight,” said Hadley. “We just took off and didn’t look back, and it was a good team win.”
In the second game of the weekend, both teams shot cold, around 40 percent for the half, with UCSD shooting just 20 percent from three. UCSD also committed nine turnovers within the first 12 minutes of the game. Still, the match was tightly contested until a 6–0 run by UC Davis brought the game to 27–20. A timely free throw by graduate guard Jake Killingsworth broke a cold streak for himself and the Tritons, and a quick steal and layup cut the deficit back to four. UC Davis would be up 32–27 at the half, setting the stage for a much more contested game than the day before.
Both teams would start the second half blazing hot, but the UC Davis lead began to increase, and an Aggie jumper would put the lead at double digits for the first time with 11:22 left to go in the game. The lead would hold mostly steady for UC Davis, and early team foul trouble put the Tritons in the double bonus with more than seven minutes left to go in the game. Whenever UCSD seemed to be on the verge of making a breakthrough, turnovers would keep UC Davis firmly in control.
As the game neared its end, a valiant effort by redshirt freshman guard Bryce Pope kept UCSD within striking distance, banking in runner after runner. A three-pointer by Pope would cut the lead to five with 22 seconds remaining, and a UC Davis turnover put the Tritons in position to make it a one-possession game. But the Tritons were unable to convert however, and UC Davis would squeak by with a narrow victory by a score of 78–71. Behind a season-high 18 points for senior guard Mikey Howell, and 16 for Pope, UCSD made it close in their effort to repeat their historic previous game. While the second half showed signs of encouragement with improved shooting, the turnovers would prove too much to overcome. After committing 22 on Friday, the 21 turnovers in this game will certainly be a point of emphasis for Coach Olen going forward.
UCSD heads into next week’s matchup at California State University, Long Beach (3–5, 2–2 Big West) for another back-to-back, hoping to build on some positive momentum with a game finally in the D-I win column.
Photo courtesy of UC San Diego Athletics