UC San Diego’s men’s basketball team started off the year on a bad foot, losing their first two games this season. UCSD was looking to bounce back in their third straight home game of the year in front of a record crowd of 3,071 people. UCSD (1–2, 0–0 Big West) took on UC Berkeley (0–3, 0–0 Pac-12) with both teams looking to have their first win of the season. The first half of the game was dominated by the Tritons on both ends of the floor, allowing them to take a huge lead early on. UC Berkeley was able to creep back into the game in the second half, but the Tritons ultimately came out on top, winning 64–62. They were able to prevail with a clutch performance coming from their star redshirt junior guard Bryce Pope, who hit the shot to put them up by 4 points late in the game to seal the deal.
The first whistle blew, and the Tritons were off to a great start. After the first nine minutes of the game, the Tritons were up big from a 3-pointer from redshirt junior forward Jake Kosakowski, pushing the lead to 13 at a score of 19–6. Defensive intensity allowed the Tritons to get out in transition and make big plays, especially from the 3-point line. With seven minutes left in the first half, the Tritons fought for a defensive rebound and pushed the ball up the floor to Pope who scored a 3-pointer, which pushed the Tritons’ lead to 18 at a score of 28–10. The Tritons were locked in, defensively forcing UC Berkeley to a shooting percentage of 31% for the entire first half. Unfortunately for the Tritons, the Golden Bears made a push toward the end of the first half to bring the game to 37–27.
The Tritons played their best half of the year thus far, shooting 53% from the 3-point line, which was their highest 3-point percentage in a half this season. The Tritons’ defensive efforts paid off heavily as they led the first half with 15 points off of 8 UC Berkeley turnovers, which was integral to building their large lead. Their leading scorer was Pope at 11 points including shooting 3 of 4 from distance in the first half. The Tritons were in pole position to put the Cal Bears down.
Kicking off the second half, the Tritons picked up right where they left off. The Tritons pushed the lead to 14 with 13 minutes left in the game off of a Pope 3-pointer. Unfortunately for the Tritons, they started to go cold from the 3-point line, and the offense went stagnant. This allowed UC Berkeley to get back into the game; with 5 minutes left the Golden Bears pulled within 1 point at a scoreline of 59–58. The Tritons were in real trouble if they couldn’t figure something out quickly. With one minute left in the game, redshirt junior guard Jace Roquemore was able to get to the free throw line and sink two integral free throws to increase the lead to 3 points. UC Berkeley responded instantly with a quick layup pulling within one point once again. With 30 seconds left in the game, the ball landed back in Pope’s hands to try and score the dagger. Pope drove left and attempted a contested floater that missed just right of the rim, where sophomore forward Francis Nwaokorie got the biggest rebound of the game and passed it back out to Pope. This time Pope would not miss, as he hit a nice crossover and pulled up for a 3-pointer, pushing the Tritons’ lead to 3 with six seconds left. The Tritons were able to through, winning 64–62.
After the game, The UCSD Guardian caught up with Pope to ask him about his clutch dagger: “We had a play to get me the ball, coach told me to go make a play, I missed the first shot, but Francis with the biggest rebound of the year, and I got isolated and made a 3 in rhythm. Now, we’re going home, it feels great,” Pope said. Coach Olen also commented on Pope’s performance: “He’s a guy that can make tough shots late in the clock, he can kinda create his own, our group needs that…” Olen said.
The Tritons will next go on the road to take on George Washington University on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 4 p.m.
Image Courtesy of Vince Hilahan