UCSD Men’s Basketball Entertains, but Loses on Spirit Night


Donovan Perez-Schipper

The UC San Diego men’s basketball team (11–13, 5–8 Big West) drew a big crowd of 1,753 on Tuesday night for Spirit Night festivities against one of the better conference foes the Big West has to offer. UC Irvine (12–7, 6–3 Big West) was one of the preseason favorites, and although they are very talented, they’ve disappointed this season. UCSD’s balanced attack would look to take advantage of Irvine’s methodical pace and win a crucial rebounding battle to come out on top.

The game started out with a lot of energy from both sides, and the star big men for each team were ready for the high-profile matchup. Early on, it was UCSD senior forward Toni Rocak with the advantage, with six early points and a tough layup finish on his third basket to give the Tritons a 10–8 advantage, forcing a UCI timeout.

UCI was the aggressor on defense early on, leading to many difficult shots for the Tritons. In what seemed destined to be a matchup with a lot of back and forth, sophomore forward Jake Kosakowski knocked down a three without hesitation to retake the lead at 15–14. The Triton defense answered the call and forced a long Irvine drought until about the eight minute mark, but the offense wasn’t able to stretch the lead much. Both teams fought hard on the defensive end, and eventually the shots began to all rim out for the Tritons as well. After a run for UCI, UCSD needed a big bucket. They found it in freshman forward Francis Nwaokorie’s big and-one layup. UCSD went on a run of their own, capped off by a sweet reverse layup from Rocak on a baseline drive. The 7–0 run put the Tritons up 25–23 with only a few minutes to go in the half. The trend of small runs for each team continued with UCI getting the last laugh, as a five-point run brought the score to 28–25 at the close of the first half after an open corner pocket three-pointer went in at the buzzer.

The second half brought much of the same action as the first half. The two teams each seemed to have difficulty with the length and tenacity of the perimeter defense. The contested shots for each team were not high-percentage looks, which was reflected in the outstanding field goal percentage numbers. UCI shot a paltry 34%, and UCSD shot an absolutely ghastly 30% from the field. Neither team being able to capitalize off of missed shots and opportunities off of turnovers was the running theme, and right when it seemed like either team was about to get hot, they would go on a large drought.

To start the half, UCSD came out throwing the first punch with five straight points after a three from Nwaokorie and a short jumper from Rocak. The Tritons would only score another two points in the next ten minutes though, and UC Irvine made a few free throws to all of a sudden take a 39–32 lead with nine minutes remaining. Rocak was the lone effective offensive force for the Tritons, and his Herculean effort was most evident in the comeback effort. He scored free throws and a few layups to score the next six Triton points, and the lead was now 43–38. A UCI three pointer increased the lead, but Rocak responded with a converted and-one to keep the game within striking distance.

With UCSD down 46–41 and three and a half minutes left on the clock, the need for some quick scores seemed dire. Free throws from UCI inflated the lead to nine, seemingly insurmountable with such little time. Two threes, the second one a bank shot from close to the logo, gave the Tritons exactly what was needed. The deficit was three at 50–47 with still 1:22 to go. Free throws were traded, and the lead was cut to two after UCSD was fouled on a three pointer and sent to the line, so the score sat at 52–50 with 40 seconds left. UCSD regained possession off a textbook drawn charge from Rocak, and UCSD called timeout to draw up a play for the winning basket.

With 20 seconds left, the Tritons inbounded the ball and set a double baseline screen for Kosakowski to leak out from behind. He caught the ball cleanly, but was short on the 3-point shot. UCI secured the rebound and made their free throws, clinching the victory. The final score to this hard fought game was 56–50, with both halves scoring an identical 28–25 in favor of UCI.

The UCSD offense was not ready for the aggressive and athletic brand of defense they faced from the Anteaters, but their own defense gave them plenty of opportunities throughout the game. The Tritons will look to figure out their anemic offense as they travel to California State University, Long Beach for their next matchup, which will take place Thursday, Feb. 24.

Image courtesy of UC San Diego Athletics