On Thursday, Jan. 30, the Highlanders (14-9, 4-3) competed against Long Beach State University in a tense game where UCR eventually won 77-69. This week’s game was played in honor of Military Day and the nine who tragically lost their lives in last week’s helicopter crash, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. The Highlanders came out wearing purple warmup shirts with the number 24 on the back, along with stars for the other victims, and wore golden laces on their shoes to pay tribute to the beloved basketball star.
During a sloppy first half, the Highlanders shot 44% and turned the ball over 10 times. Despite this, the two sides entered the halftime break with the score tied 29-29.
At halftime, the Inland Sound Choir graced the audience with a performance of “God Bless America” to honor the hard work of the brave men and women who serve in the military. In the second half, Riverside began to pick up the intensity led by junior guard Dominick Pickett. He led the team in scoring with 20 points which was not only the highest score of any player in the game, it was also a personal high for Pickett in any game this season thus far.
For most of the game, Long Beach stayed close enough behind the Highlanders to go on a run and take back the lead. The last two minutes of the game were intense with the Highlanders scoring several points to increase their lead and secure the win. This game was not only important because it was in their home arena, it was a Big West Conference game and it was also covered by ESPN3.
When asked if these factors added any extra pressure, Pickett stated, ”We always approach a game the same way, we try not to let any outside influences impact the way we play. We don’t want our emotions to ever get in the way of how we play a game.” Pickett spoke on Bryant’s death, saying, “being from SoCal we all looked up to Kobe and he’s a big reason why we play so tonight we felt like we just had to leave it all out on the floor.”
Senior guard Dikymbe Martin finished the game with 14 points and three rebounds. Sophomore forward Angus McWilliam and junior forward Arinze Chidom both scored 11 points apiece.
Up next, the Highlanders will be playing their next game in Fullerton on Wednesday, Feb 5., against Cal State Fullerton (8-14, 3-4).