Men’s basketball suffers third consecutive loss to UC Irvine

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, UC Riverside’s men’s basketball team (14-12, 4-6) suffered a close defeat against the UC Irvine Anteaters (16-10, 8-2). The final score of the game was 63-59, in favor of the Anteaters. After losing to the CSU Northridge Matadors on Feb. 8, this is the Highlanders’ third straight loss in the Big West Conference play.

Wednesday night at the SRC Arena was the annual World Game, in which international students from UC Riverside Extension created posters to display during the game with messages of support in different languages. 

The Highlanders started off strong against the Anteaters, who currently hold the top spot in the Big West. Graduate student point guard Khyber Kabellis and junior guard Dominick Pickett established a six-point lead for the Highlanders early in the game, during which they both knocked down three-point shots. Although Pickett alone contributed two jump-shots in the paint and another three-pointer, by the first 10 minutes of the first half, the Anteaters had closed the lead, 18-17.

UCR dominated offensively early in the game and were able to build upon their lead in the first half. The Highlanders consistently scored in the paint throughout the game largely due to the pick-and-roll duo of sophomore center Callum McRae and Kabellis. 

The game was contentious during the latter portion of the first half as each team tried to regain the lead which was traded back and forth eight times before UCI’s senior guard Evan Leonard made two baskets to extend their lead to nine points. Ultimately, the Anteater’s aggressive offensive strategy and UCI senior guard Eyassu Worku’s free throws secured the lead for UCI. The first half ended at a considerable disadvantage for the Highlanders, at 38-29. 

One of the highlights of the night was when UCI fumbled the ball, giving junior forward Arinze Chidom an opportunity to dunk on the fastbreak. A two-point basket and series of free throws by sophomore guard Dragan Elkaz led to a 40-40 tie with 8:24 left to play.

Sophomore forward Collin Welp and senior guard Eyassu Worku managed to score four points each with 1:31 left on the clock; these baskets broke the tie in favor of UC Irvine. Although Pickett scored one last three-pointer with nine seconds left on the clock, it wasn’t enough to catch up to the Anteaters, who won, 63-59.

Head Coach David Patrick said, “To beat a good team, you can’t give them any life. ‘Cause they find a way to execute in the end. So hats off to Irvine for doing that. It’s something that’s going to hurt us, but something that we can learn from.” 

Although UCR’s defense proved to be effective as the team finished with 28 total rebounds while forcing 10 turnovers versus UCI’s 27 total rebounds and 12 turnovers, as the first half progressed the Highlanders struggled to keep up with the Anteaters. Irvine worked in tandem with one another with eight assists overall, while UCR became less uniform in their play. UCI’s overall field goal percentage was 46.7% compared to UCR’s 45.5%.

Pickett led the charge for the Highlanders with 17 points and four rebounds. McRae and Kabellis were two of the top scorers of the night for UCR with 16 and 10 points respectively. Additionally, McRae grabbed seven rebounds and Kabellis dished out seven assists.

Pickett commented on the loss in a press conference after the game, stating, “It stings. It stings a lot. But I think we’re all trying to stay positive knowing we were a couple of possessions away from winning the game if we just take care of business on the offensive end and get a couple of stops.”

The Highlanders suffered another close loss at the hands of Long Beach State (9-17, 4-6) on Feb. 15, 63-65. Next, they will try to recover from the loss as they compete against the University of Hawaii at Manoa (14-10, 5-5) on Thursday, Feb. 20.