UC San Diego’s men’s basketball team (8–7) lost a close contest to UC Davis (7–4) on Saturday, Dec. 8 by a score of 78–71. These two teams were evenly matched throughout the game, but the Tritons were not able to close it out and were sunk by some clutch UC Davis free-throw shooting. While the offense was balanced and effective, the 78 points were the most UCSD has allowed in a regulation game this season. This loss will sting even worse because it was a winnable game against one of the most talented teams in the Big West. The Tritons will look to continue their crisp offensive momentum, while keeping the opposing team off the free-throw line in the next one.
The Tritons came to play early in this matchup. Three-pointers from senior guard Jake Killingsworth, sophomore guard Jace Rocquemore, and freshman forward Francis Nwaokorie with an added jumper by Rocquemore gave the Tritons a whopping 16–4 lead six minutes into the first half. The Tritons blitzed the Aggies from the outside, where they were very effective all night, but UC Davis responded to the Tritons 14–0 run with a 6–0 run themselves, cutting the deficit to a manageable 6.
Right as the Tritons were losing momentum on offense, the offensive leader, senior forward Toni Rocak, stepped in with two layups, set up nicely by the threat of the outside attack. Going up ten forced another timeout, and UCSD was firmly in control again. Out of the timeout, Davis once again cut it to six, but sophomore guard Bryce Pope came through with a layup of his own to get on the scoreboard. UC Davis was playing more aggressively and their effort was getting them back into the game, especially at the free-throw line. Pope soon returned the favor, getting to the line after being fouled on a three pointer at the 6:15 mark, making two of three free throws to give the Tritons a 29–23 lead.
UC Davis methodically cut the lead down, and with a minute and a half the once-large lead had been cut to a measly 1 point, now 33–32. With 30 seconds to play, UC Davis took their first lead since the opening minutes with a three pointer; UCSD now trailed 37–35. UCSD showed their poise by coming right back down the floor and getting Pope open, who lasered a contested three pointer and was fouled. He converted the 4-point play and just like that, the Tritons entered the locker room with both a 2-point lead as well as the once-lost momentum.
The game continued to be tightly contested, with the Tritons’ shooting being matched by UC Davis’ scrappy play and interior prowess against the smaller UC San Diego team. The game was knotted at 41 for a long time with the teams trading stops, perhaps uncharacteristically in this high-scoring affair, until a layup from senior guard Kaden Rasheed gave the Tritons the leg up. Soon after, Killingsowrth continued the scoring with 2 three pointers flanked by a Rocak layup, with the score now reading 53–48 with 11 minutes to go. Killingsworth was running the offense spectacularly, but the defensive execution thereafter left a lot to be desired, with four Tritons fouls committed in under 2 minutes. After all the free throws tallied, the back and forth game was once again tied, now at 60.
The closing stretch saw the roles reverse to a degree–fouls gave UCSD opportunities at the line with Rocak hitting four free throws and Killingsworth adding another, but UC Davis matched the scoring at every turn., After Davis made another layup inside to go up 69–67, Rocak committed a charging foul with 3:16 left on the clock. Fortunately, the Tritons got a stop and Bryce Pope’s determination on the drive got him to the free-throw line, where he converted one of two.
The Tritons called a timeout after forcing a turnover with 1:08 to go, and the play call got Killingsworth open for his fourth three of the game. Needing a stop down one, the Tritons committed an errant foul. Now down three, the shooting that was there all night did not give them this final boost, and Pope missed the all-important jumper allowing the Aggies to ice the game with free throws, with the final score being 78–71.
Trying to shake this difficult road stretch, the UCSD Tritons will next take on Big West Player of the Year candidate Collin Welp and UC Irvine on the road Tuesday, Jan. 11, where the team will surely hope to shore up their interior defense.
Image courtesy of Jeff Tourial / UC San Diego Athletics