Tritons’ Skid Extends to Six Against Cal Poly

The UC San Diego men’s basketball team (8–11, 2–6 Big West) suffered their sixth defeat in a row in all competitions to California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo (5–12, 2–4 Big West) this past Thursday at home in La Jolla, the score 55–59 at the full-time buzzer. Despite maintaining the lead for the majority of the evening, the Tritons lost their grip on the game after a second-half push by the Mustangs who nabbed the victory late on in a spectator-less RIMAC Arena. 

In a particularly low-scoring match, both teams should be proud of the determined defensive efforts they each put in; but UCSD will be doubly disappointed to have given up the lead in the final quarter after holding on to it for most of the game. Despite the final scoreline favoring the visitors, the Tritons were the stronger team overall, albeit a brief decline in form that cost them in the end.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo began brightly, winning first possession and scoring a bucket just over 3 minutes in. The low-scoring pattern of the evening made itself known from the get-go, however, with a UCSD lead held to 4–2 for the first nine minutes of play, courtesy of a pair of layups by senior forward Toni Rocak and freshman forward Francis Nwaokorie. Although both teams went back and forth in baskets after that initial slow start, the Tritons spent the first half building their advantage. A trio of 3-pointers from redshirt sophomore forward Jake Kosakowski as well as a pair from redshirt sophomore guard Bryce Pope helped widen the home side’s lead, and a pair of free throws from Rocak were the last of the half to make the score 33–22 at the buzzer. 

The second half began with a layup by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo followed by a pair of buckets for the Tritons from Rocak and Nwaokorie. However, this came just before a six-minute period in which the visitors steadily chipped away at UCSD’s 13-point lead. Even though Kosakowski broke the dry spell with another 3-pointer, his fourth of the evening, the Mustangs had built up momentum that saw them continue to narrow the gap. 

Just three minutes later, a layup by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Trevon Taylor brought the visitors over the mark to take the lead for the first time in the game. In the last few minutes, the Tritons doubled down and made a valiant effort to pull back the advantage, with Rocak stealing four points back from a couple of layups. Unfortunately for the home team, it wasn’t enough to take back the game, and after a trio of free throws from the visitors, the game ended in a disappointingly close 55–59 defeat for the Tritons.

Rocak was one of the standout performers on the evening, leading the Tritons with a contribution of 15 points on the board. He also impressed by putting up a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds, his second of the season. Kosakowski and Pope also made vital contributions to UCSD’s scoresheet, each adding four 3-pointers to their totals of 14 and 12 points, respectively. 

UCSD had the advantage for most of the game, but both sides put out low shooting percentages, with the Tritons shooting 33% on field goals throughout the whole game. The game went through a few periods in which the teams traded points as well as a couple of stretches where neither side could seem to get the ball into the net. Visually, it was frustrating to watch how many shots were taken that bounced off the rim or just air-balled altogether. 

The second half was where the Tritons lost the edge: their shooting percentages went down from 38% to 29%. These offensive difficulties were paired with issues in the defense as well. The home side reported 10 turnovers in the second half that, combined with their shooting, created a bit of a perfect storm for the Tritons, resulting in an overall downturn in game performance. Despite their struggles during the night, however, it has to be acknowledged that the Tritons were up against a stubborn defence. The Mustangs smothered many of their attempts to score before the shot could be released, and their attacks were effective in putting together stretches of momentum that disrupted UCSD’s rhythm and eventually broke down their lead.

UCSD next took on California State University, Bakersfield two days later on Saturday, Jan. 29 in another Big West contest at home. Fortunately for the Tritons, the 83–75 win broke their six-game string of defeats, giving them their first victory since their New Year’s Day triumph against California State University, Northridge. Head coach Eric Olen’s men will be looking to turn this result against CSUB into a run of wins when they again face off against CSU Northridge away this Thursday, Feb. 3. 

Image courtesy of Mike McGinnis / UC San Diego Athletics