Courtesy of UCR Athletics

In what served as the most critical game of the season so far, the Highlanders (15-12, 9-4) ousted CSUN (14-13, 8-5) to secure second place in the Big West for the time being. Heading into Thursday’s contest, both teams were tied at 14-12 overall and 8-4 in conference standings.

It took a while for both teams to find a groove, with the score only being 11-6 in UCR’s favor after the first quarter. However, both teams found their rhythm in the second quarter with both teams shooting at least 60 percent from the field. CSUN’s Channon Fluker tallied 11 points in the period and drained a three just before the halftime buzzer to give the Matadors a 32-29 lead.

Although they held CSUN 1-for-11 in the quarter, the visitors took a 40-38 lead with 2:41 left in the third. This marked the Matador’s first lead of the game since being up 6-5 in the first. But the Highlanders held their composure and were up 44-43 into the final period.

UCR thrived when it mattered most, going on a 9-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Junior forward Marina Ewodo finally got back into her usual tempo from early on in the year, as she played the entire 40 minutes of basketball against CSUN. Ewodo rounded out the stat sheet with 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting, nine rebounds, four blocks and four assists. This was the most points Ewodo has scored since scoring 25 against Long Beach State on Jan. 24

Redshirt junior guard Jannon Otto put up seven of her 19 points in the fourth quarter alone, and dished out 11 dimes for the night. Her seven fourth quarter points completely contrasted her previous outing against the Matadors, where she only recorded four points during their Jan. 19 matchup.

Despite the crucial victory over CSUN, Riverside lost on Saturday,  March 2, to a UCSB team with an 8-20, 5-10 record.

The upset snapped UCR’s three-game winning streak, as well as puts second place in conference a little bit more up for grabs.

After both teams shot 47 percent in the first quarter, their respective offenses fell off in the second. Otto and De Kergret combined for 2-for-15 shooting in the first half alone, but the Highlanders were only down 28-27 at halftime.

What set the two teams apart in the third quarter was the five turnovers Riverside committed, leading to 13 Gaucho points off turnovers in the period alone. Santa Barbara would score a total of 20 points off turnovers throughout the game.

However, what ultimately decided the game was when Otto landed awkwardly on her right foot while attempting to grab a rebound just a minute into the final frame. The redshirt junior didn’t see the floor again for the rest of the night.

From here, UCSB amassed a 12-1 run to end the contest, ousting UCR 61-44.

The loss isn’t the end of the world for the Highlanders as they’re still in the playoff picture, but it may sting them if they don’t hold second place by the end of the season.

The team will host Hawai’i Thursday, March 7 at 7 p.m for their final home game of the season.