UC Riverside’s men’s basketball team (7-18, 5-9) was looking to bounce back from the defeat they took at the hands of UC Irvine (16-13, 9-4) back on Saturday, Feb 18. The Highlanders traveled to UC Santa Barbara (5-21, 3-11) to attempt to win their first game ever in the Thunderdome Thursday, Feb. 23. However, poor shooting and defense from the Highlanders would spoil their effort and help UC Santa Barbara to a 68-61 victory.
The first half was a tight one as the Highlanders entered the break only down by one, 31-32. The Highlanders shot well in the first half, making 13 of their 26 attempts from the field. While the Highlanders shot 50 percent in the first half, Santa Barbara shot even better at 55 percent. UCR Head Coach Dennis Cutts wasn’t pleased with his team’s play despite their efficient shooting. Cutts explained, “We shot 50 percent, but that’s not our kind of basketball and we can get inconsistent offensively, but if we’re not guarding at a high, high level then when we go through a little lull, the game gets separated from us. We didn’t have the defensive mindset to start that game.”
Through one half, senior guards Gentry Thomas and Malik Thames led the way for the Highlanders with eight points a piece. For the Gauchos, senior guard Eric Childress was scorching hot and led the game in scoring with 15 points.
In the second half, things only got worse for UC Riverside. The team’s field goal percentage plummeted to 25 percent, and they still couldn’t do anything to slow down Santa Barbara. The Gauchos shot 43 percent from the field compared to their average 37 percent throughout the season.
The Highlanders’ poor performance on both sides of the ball in the second half caused the team to drop its fifth consecutive game. Cutts felt like things could turn around soon though saying, “We’ve had some players out as we know, Chance Murray, who’s our leading scorer hasn’t played in the last four games. Malik Thames, who’s our senior point guard’s been out so we’ve got to get those guys back whole. We’re closer to being healthy now so we’ve got to get more of the continuity we had during that four-game winning streak. We had everybody and we were really kinda going along so that’s the biggest thing.”
The Highlanders are at home for the final two games of the regular season and Cutts sees that as a good situation, saying, “It’s always good to be home. This is a unique situation where we have the weekend off prior to the tournament (Big West). You always want to play at home even though we’ve struggled these past few games we love being at home. We need to taste some success then we’ll have the weekend off and then this whole team and season has been built on going into Anaheim and hopefully have some success down there.”
The Highlanders’ final regular season game of the year will be against UC Irvine on Wednesday, March 1 in the SRC Arena at 7 p.m.