Big West play has been filled with highs and lows early on for the UC San Diego Triton Men’s Basketball squad (6–9, 1–2 Big West), and this game was no different. Facing a talented Hawaii University (12–3, 3–0 Big West), the Tritons struggled offensively. Bad efficiency and a high rate of turnovers is difficult to overcome when facing one of the best teams in the conference, and the Rainbow Warriors punished the Tritons from the start. The Tritons made runs to make the game entertaining, but ultimately struggled to find their way back after surrendering a large deficit very early in the matchup.
In the first half of play, the Tritons did not start out with inspired play. With uncharacteristically leaky defense to start, the Tritons allowed five early field goals to give Hawaii an 11–4 lead at the 15:00 minute mark of the first half. The game of runs manifested itself in the Tritons closing the gap to one at 11–10 in two minutes time, capped off by a three pointer from freshman guard Roddie Anderson III. Immediately thereafter, Hawaii responded with a 6–0 run of their own to balloon the lead back to seven.
The Tritons could not seem to kick the turnover bug in the first half after opening the game with turnovers on consecutive possessions, but the offense remained efficient early on to keep the team within striking distance. Two shots in a row from redshirt junior guard Bryce Pope from the interior were converted to cut the lead back down to two. The continued turnovers and lack of creativity from the offense, outside of Pope, contributed to a crushing run from the Rainbow warriors, who went on a 14–4 run in the last 10 minutes of the half after Pope cut it to two. Outside of two more Pope makes, (who finished the half with 14, including the last 8) the entire team struggled to find good opportunities near the basket. The Tritons were in a dire position going back into the locker room, down 35–21 with only twenty minutes left to shore up their decision-making.
Coach Olen must’ve said something inspiring in the locker room, because the intensity was markedly improved for UCSD to start the second half. Pope extended his streak to 10 straight points for the team with a smooth mid-range shot, and the team scored eight unanswered points to open the half, led by their pestering defense. Hawaii got started after regrouping following a timeout, but the Tritons continued to storm back as Pope and Anderson each sank jumpers in the paint to keep the team close, now at a score of 40–36 with 12:35 remaining in the game.
The highlight of the game came off a brilliant defensive play from Anderson, who shot the passing lane for a steal and a thunderous dunk on the other end to bring the deficit back down to four for the Tritons. The back and forth continued as each team was giving it everything they got as the game reached its climax. The defensive intensity was palpable with the game on the line, but neither team was giving in with each holding their own with great team play offensively. Anderson continued to show rare poise from a freshman with his effectiveness on both sides of the ball, and the entire team was feeding off of his energy. Clutch free throws by Anderson put the score at 50–46 with four minutes left to go in what seemed to be headed to a nail-biter.
Instead, the Rainbow Warriors suddenly pulled away. The Tritons hung on for as long as they could, but Hawaii proved to have more gas left in the tank by finishing the game on a 9–0 run to put the final tally at 62–49. The Tritons struggled to score at the end of the game and were unable to get any stops in a game where neither team was particularly effective from the perimeter.
The adjustments made at halftime by the coaching staff were spectacular to light a fire under the team, and although the score seems lopsided, the game was much closer than was indicated by the final. The team cut down the turnovers significantly in the second, but was haunted by stretches of an absent offense and lapses on defense. Hawaii proved to be the more consistent team, but the Tritons can be encouraged with a solid defensive performance against a team that will surely be one of the Big West’s top contenders.
UCSD will look to take on UC Riverside on Wednesday, Jan. 11 as they attempt to get even in the wins and losses columns in this challenging Big West slate.
Photo Courtesy of Rishi Yalamatra of UCSD Athletics