The overtime loss Thursday night proved to be the most unforgettable defeat these Highlanders have ever dealt with. It was a great game all around for the men’s basketball team, but the Highlanders could not secure the win in the final two seconds of regulation. UCR missed the golden opportunity to defeat the unbeaten Long Beach State 49ers when the most important free-throw of the night was missed by UC Riverside and victory slipped right out of the Highlanders’ hands.
In the midst of all the disappointment, it was a bit of a surprise to see the team come out of the locker rooms with a sense of pride and hope at the end of the game.
“Our heads are definitely high,” said star forward Phil Martin in the press conference after the match. “I think that’s the best we’ve ever played.”
It’s an incredibly difficult task to find light at the end of the tunnel after a letdown like that, but you know something? He’s right.
It was a game they were expected to lose. Some even thought it was going to be a blow-out and another walk-through for the 49ers. But to everybody’s surprise, the Highlanders came out with a lot more intensity than what was expected. They executed their offense and held the 49ers to 36 percent shooting from the floor. Keep in mind that this is a team that has averaged about 50 percent shooting against the rest of the conference.
The fact of the matter is that UCR played like true contenders. In doing so, they managed to make this the best conference game of the year. In the end, it was hard to tell which team was happier. Long Beach won the match, but the Highlanders were the ones who played like champions.
Coach Wooldridge has publicly stated that he is not a believer in moral victories. That may be true, but all the things considered, there is no denying that Thursday night’s hard-fought battle had some positive affect on the team.
“Don’t turn the faucet off,” said Wooldridge to his team after the loss.
For the Highlanders’ sake, I hope they listen to the coach. There will be more games coming up and more opportunities to show off how great of a team they really are. Riverside will travel to the Pyramid of Long Beach on Feb. 25. The best opportunity for redemption will begin right there. If the Highlanders win a game on the 49ers’ home court, I think the talk of reaching the NCAA Tournament will really start to intensify.