On Jan. 31, UC San Diego (3–5, 1–4 Big West) scheduled a game against UC Riverside (8–4, 4–2 Big West) to make up for canceled games against California State University, Long Beach on Friday and Saturday. Since it was scheduled outside of the Big West season, the rescheduled game will be considered a non–conference affair and will not count on either school’s conference record. UCSD’s inaugural Division I men’s basketball team tried to keep the momentum going after grabbing their first-ever victory in conference play, but fell short in a 71–59 loss to UCR.
UC San Diego slumped out of the gate, finding themselves down 27–12 at the 9:08 mark in the first half. An inspired run by Hugh Baxter, a senior forward, would help UCSD claw back into this one before it got out of hand. Three out of four three-point jumpers would fall for Baxter, and an assist to freshman guard Jace Rocquemore’s layup would bring the Tritons to only a 6-point deficit with five minutes left in the first period of play.
UC Riverside would quickly recover, however, with an 8–0 run immediately following the 11 points in which Hugh Baxter scored or assisted. After a few more minutes of attempting to close the gap before the end of the half, UCSD would find themselves down 45–32 before halftime. The Tritons went into the half looking for a better defensive showing in the second period after giving up 45 in the first.
Neither team would score in the opening three minutes of the second half, a hopeful sign for the Tritons, who struggled on the offensive end to start the game. A UC Riverside 3-pointer forced a timeout from the UCSD coaching staff after the lead ballooned to 20 with 15:14 remaining. UCSD would miss its first five attempts from 3-point range before junior forward Toni Rocak hit a triple five minutes into the half after the timeout was called.
Two UCSD layups cut the deficit to 15 with 10 minutes to go, but the offense was not humming enough to make a real run at making this game competitive. After suffering from the largest deficit of the game at 71–49 with four minutes of play left, UCSD would score ten points in a row to end the game, resulting in a 12-point loss, but possibly some positive momentum going into the next game for the Tritons.
There were a few bright spots for the Tritons though, with Hugh Baxter and Toni Rocak scoring 17 and 15, respectively. After multiple games with around 20 turnovers, the Tritons cut that mark to 14 against Riverside, only one more than UCR for the game. Still, paltry shooting from the rest of the team along with poor stretches of defense in the first half made this matchup fairly one-sided.
UCSD’s 36 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from the free-throw line will likely be among Coach Olen’s intended improvements for this team, as it looks to continue growing as the middle of the conference season approaches; the Tritons will also look to play the sort of team defense they played in spurts of the second half for the full 40 minutes.
While this game was obviously a tough one to stomach for Coach Olen, he did tell UCSD Athletics that he was proud of the way his players fought back after a rough start. The team will look to hold on to that grit as they look towards their next two-game matchup at California State University, Bakersfield on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13.
Image courtesy of UC San Diego Athletics