The UC Riverside men’s basketball team played two hard-fought games this week, one against UC Santa Barbara and one against conference and Southern California rival UC Irvine. Yet in both, the Highlanders came up short.
In the first game of the week on Thursday, March 3, the Highlanders were in prime position heading into halftime. The Highlanders were just behind by a five-point deficit by the end of the first half, but their hopes were quickly dashed when UC Santa Barbara went on a 21-3 run to start the second half. In the end, the deficit proved too for a UCR comeback as UC Santa Barbara won the game, 81-55.
The Highlanders were led by senior Jaylen Bland, who had 10 points on three-of-nine shooting from the field, while Junior guard Gentrey Thomas had 10 points as well on four-of-nine shooting from the field. UCSB was led by their best player, Michael Bryson, who had 16 points on five-of-10 shooting from the field as well as grabbing eight total rebounds in the competition.
The Highlanders carried motivation from this loss on their backs heading into their final game of the regular season against UC Irvine. Before the game UC Riverside honored its two seniors on the team, Jaylen Bland and Steven Jones, prior to tip-off for the regular season finale. The Highlanders seemed in terrific position to send them off with a win, leading by a score of 62-52 with just over 7:45 left to play, but UCI would not be denied. Behind the efforts of arguably their two best shooters, Luke Nelson and Mike Best, the Anteaters came storming back and eventually took the win by a score of 76-66.
UCR was led in the competition once again by Bland who had 15 points on 5-15 shooting. The Highlanders were also aided by sophomore center Alex Larson who had 12 points on 4-5 shooting from the field. Senior Mike Best who scored 20 points in the competition 9-13 shooting led the Anteaters, and Luke Nelson also added to the team total with 18 points on 6-7 shooting.
The Highlanders will now travel to Anaheim to take part in the Big West conference tournament, which will run from March 10 to March 12. The team will take on third place Long Beach State who posted a 12-4 conference record and defeated UCR in their two meetings this season.