After their first match up in the season against California State University, Fullerton (9-15, 4-5) that went in favor of UC Riverside (14-10, 4-4) 65-59, the Highlanders were hunting for a season sweep against the Titans. Wednesday, Feb. 5 saw Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) come out in a different light, as they battled with a sense of determination that led to their 61-48 victory and evened the series.
The match began in an unusual fashion for the Highlanders as they committed three turnovers in their initial possessions. Their 6-0 deficit, without a single point on the board, led UC Riverside Head Coach David Patrick to call a timeout. Although the Highlanders were able to temporarily rally on a 7-0 run, turnovers proved to be an underlying factor as the Titans capitalized on 10 first half turnovers. Even with a careless play style, UCR fought tooth and nail to stay in the match, as they went into the break trailing by five at 32-27 in favor of CSUF.
The energy from the initial turnovers carried into the second half of the match, in which the Highlanders were outscored 29-21. Beyond going a low 43% from the field, UCR could not find a rhythm from the three-point line. The Highlanders were only able to convert three of their 14 shot attempts from beyond the arc. The Highlanders were also edged out in a rebound battle for the first time since their meeting against the Air Force Academy on Dec. 31, 2019. The Titans grabbed a rebound more than the Highlanders, 27-26, respectively.
Graduate student guard Khyber Kabellis and sophomore center Callum McRae posted 10 points each, although their collective effort was not enough to mount a Highlander comeback. The Titans dominant play was in part due to senior guard Brandon Kamga and senior forward Jackson Rowe, who both had double digit scoring games and five assists collectively.
The Highlanders demonstrated another style as they took on CSU Northridge on Saturday, Feb. 8. Although they found themselves in a similar situation to their previous match, UCR was able to provide an answer to a 14-point deficit that fell just short of stunning Northridge. With under 10 seconds of play, Kabellis tied up the match at 59 with a clutch layup.
The ball returned to the hands of the Matadors with 4.9 seconds of play. In a moment of chaos over a loose ball, Northridge’s sophomore forward Lamine Diane was fouled and sent to the line where he drained a pair of free throws. The Matadors protected their narrow lead and maintained the victory at their home.
The Highlanders will return home on Wednesday, Feb. 12 as they host division leaders UC Irvine (14-9, 6-1) in a midweek match. UCR will look to even this series with their previous meeting going in favor of UCI, 69-53.