UC San Diego (5–8, 2–7 Big West) split their two games against UC Riverside (10–6, 5–3 Big West), dropping the first game by a score of 81–75, and winning the second in overtime, 83–82 on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20. In the second game, senior guard Gabe Hadley made two clutch three-pointers to send the match to overtime, and sank a deep three for the win.
In their second and third bouts of the season, the UCSD Tritons were looking for an elusive second conference victory against a UC Riverside team that soundly beat the Tritons in their first matchup on Jan. 31, 71–59.
In the first game, the Tritons found themselves in a competitive battle, with the teams tied at 26 with 8:05 left to go in the first half after senior forward Hugh Baxter’s three-pointer leveled the game. UC Riverside would then respond with a 10–0 run, the longest of the game so far, to bring the lead to ten with about 5 minutes to go in the half. After a competitive start to this game, the Tritons were quickly in danger of letting this one get away.
UC Riverside would eventually take a fourteen point lead, but a 6–0 UCSD run to close the half, finished off by a Baxter jumper, narrowed the deficit to eight. The Tritons missed a crucial opportunity to completely take control of the momentum due to a missed jumper from freshman guard Bryce Pope. Still, UCSD had come within a manageable deficit, and they had significant momentum going into the second half.
The Riverside lead hovered close to double digits, with neither team able to break through. Two UCSD three-pointers and a layup from UCSD junior forward Toni Rocak cut the lead to one with 6:53 left in the second half to cap off an 8–0 run. The Tritons would not be able to recapture the lead however, and when the game ended at 81–75, they had not held an advantage since the first basket of the game put them up 3–0.
In a revenge game the next day after losing two to UC Riverside, UCSD came out strong, taking a commanding 18–10 lead with 10:46 left in the first half, highlighted by 5 straight points from Rocak on a layup and a triple. UC Riverside would soon respond, however, with an 8–0 run, with UCSD struggling with turnovers despite having a stellar game taking care of the ball the day before. UC Riverside would take a 35–30 lead into the half.
After two UC Riverside layups, UCSD would go on another run to cut the lead to two with a three-pointer by Gabe Hadley, one of many to come. In this game of runs, UC Riverside gave the Tritons a gut punch with a three-pointer to put the Tritons down twelve with 11:33 remaining in the game. But UCSD still had a lot of fight left, with Hadley beginning to heat up after converting a four-point play to put the score at 60–54.
UCSD played the foul game after being down three with inside a minute left. One made Riverside free throw had the Tritons down four, but Hadley answered on the other end with a quick three-pointer. Another foul resulted in two more made free throws for Riverside, but it was still a one-possession game, and the Tritons had the ball. With the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticking off the clock, Hadley drove down the left side of the court and sank another clutch three with two defenders in his grill to send this one to overtime.
In the overtime period, the Tritons and UC Riverside went back and forth, as was the theme for the game. With 21 seconds left in the game, the pendulum swung in favor of UC Riverside, as they took a two point lead. Impressively, a UCSD team coming off two losses against UC Riverside, on the second night of a back-to-back, and down two points on their final possession, did not lose its composure. The team got the ball in the hands of Hadley, and he drained another three from very deep, the final swing of this game’s pendulum as the Tritons won, 83–82. Hadley finished with 25 points in this career night, capping off a great team victory.
Coach Eric Olen’s squad will surely celebrate this nail-biting victory, capping off a competitive series against UC Riverside and showcasing the progression this team has made this season. UCSD will now look towards their next series on the road against a formidable UC Irvine team on Feb. 26 and 27, hoping to carry some of this momentum for the latter half of their conference schedule.
Photo courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego