The new year welcomed a different chapter for the UCR men’s basketball team (12-6,2-0). Although they managed to maintain a winning record in previous competitions, Thursday, Jan. 9 marked their first Big West Conference match against UC Davis (6-11, 0-1) on the road. In a conference opener that stunned the home crowd, UCR went in headstrong from the initial tip-off to win 65-59. The Highlanders carried the momentum from this game into the weekend, as they defeated Cal State Fullerton (5-12, 0-2) on Saturday, Jan. 12, in a tense battle than ended 65-59.
In the first five minutes of play in their midweek matchup against UC Davis, the Highlanders dictated the pace of play as they started the game on a 9-2 run. With just over eight minutes left to play in the first half, the first media timeout was called. The break proved beneficial for UCR to reorganize as they continued to build on the lead after the break, increasing it to 12 with the score at 26-14. The Aggies were able to cut the lead to eight just before halftime, making the score 37-29
In the first half, UCR’s offense displayed greater overall efficiency than Davis’, as they shot 62% going 16-of-26 from the field, compared to the Aggies’ 46% shooting. Junior guard George Willborn III continued his consistent play from previous games. At the 20 minute mark, Willborn led the team with 11 points, shooting 5-of-11.
More impressively, on the defensive end the Highlanders were able to hold their opponent’s leading scorer, senior guard Joe Mooney, to just three points in the first half. The Highlanders were all over the boards, managing to outrebound Davis 14-11. From this, the Highlanders were able to convert those rebounds into 24 points from inside the paint, compared to just six rebounds from the host team.
UCR emerged with the same intensity in the second half as they continued to dominate. Defensively, the Highlanders cranked up the intensity as they held Davis to an even lower field goal efficiency at just 37%. On offense, junior forward Arinze Chidom and sophomore forward Angus McWilliam joined Willborn in scoring 11 points each.
Junior guard Dominick Pickett came up big for the Highlanders in the second half. Pickett finished the game with 13 points with eight of those points coming in the second half. The intensity increased as the home team scored six unanswered points late, cutting the deficit to three. Coming off of the bench, senior guard Dikymbe Martin managed to drill a pair of three-point shots to keep the Aggies at bay, ending the game in a 65-59 win for the Highlanders.
In their first conference home game of the season, UCR faced a different challenge as they hosted Cal State Fullerton (5-12, 0-2). The two sides looked evenly matched early, as only a point separated both teams at the 10 minute mark, 15-14, in favor of the Highlanders. UCR was able to distance themselves from their opponents going into halftime, taking a 37-22 lead.
The second half of the game saw the Titans cut the lead to four with just under eight minutes left of play, in part due to the Highlanders only being able to shoot 19% in the second half, compared to 51% in the first. Even so, the Highlanders exhibited discipline in their fundamentals, as they shot 74% from the free throw line, making 17-of-21 free throws.
Martin had another big game leading UCR with 13 points. Pickett was the only other Highlander in double figures with 10 points. Ultimately, a team effort was essential in keeping the Highlanders in the match with six players scoring seven points or more.
Up next, the Highlanders will aim to stay on top as they host Cal State Northridge (6-12, 1-1) on Thursday, Jan. 16 at the SRC Arena. Over the weekend, they will then travel to Irvine as they take on UCI (9-8, 1-0) on Saturday, Jan. 18.