On Thursday, Feb. 20, the Highlanders (14-14, 4-8) hosted the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine (15-10) on their home court in Riverside. UC Riverside battled until the end, but their efforts were not enough as they lost their fifth straight game by a final score of 56-55.
UC Riverside got off to a fast start in the first few minutes of the game. Led by junior guard Dominick Pickett, the Highlanders scored 10 points within the span of four minutes with Hawaii only putting up two. However, after a substitution by Hawaii Head Coach Eran Ganot, the momentum of the first half shifted in the direction of Hawaii. Freshman guard Justin Webster of Hawaii took charge of the game as he scored 18 points in the first half.
The second half saw UC Riverside turn up the intensity on both ends of the court. Despite being down 37-23 at the start of the half, the Highlanders didn’t let the score affect their effort and energy level as they slowly chipped away the lead. Consecutive baskets from junior forward Arinze Chidom, graduate student guard Khyber Kabellis and Pickett gave the Highlanders momentum and with around eight minutes left in the game, the Highlanders took a five-point lead.
From this point in the game, a back-and-forth battle ensued, with Hawaii senior guard Eddie Stansberry knocking down five free throws to tie the game. With just under two minutes remaining, the Highlanders held a two-point lead.
With a minute and two seconds remaining on the game clock, a fastbreak foul by UCR sophomore forward Angus McWilliam on Hawaii junior guard Drew Buggs led to a trip to the free-throw line in which Buggs converted on his two attempts. Buggs’ made free throws brought the game to a one-point deficit for Hawaii.
On the following possession, with 30 seconds left on the game clock, Pickett attempted a jumper but the shot fell short, leading to a defensive rebound by Buggs. Hawaii senior forward Zigmars Raimo drove toward the basket for a layup but his attempt was off. However, sophomore center Dawson Carper was in position for the putback and Hawaii took back the lead.
After a final timeout by UCR, the Highlanders had one last chance to secure the win. Pickett and McWilliam both attempted last second jump shots but both players missed their attempts. The Highlanders were unable to hold on and Hawaii took the ballgame 56-55.
“This (loss) one is gonna hurt. They all hurt but this one hurts more because we did so well to get back up and we just made some questionable decisions at the end. But hats off to them because they are a good team,” Head Coach David Patrick said in a post-game interview.
McRae led the way for the Highlanders with 16 points and nine rebounds. Pickett was the only other Highlander in double figures as he finished with 12 points and four rebounds.
Patrick stated, “I think (McRae) got the message at half time. In the first half, he was avoiding contact and looking for double teams and they weren’t coming. In the second half, he took his poise and read his reads on the offensive end and delivered.”
As a team, the Highlanders outrebounded the Rainbow Wahine by three rebounds. They grabbed 39 total rebounds compared to the 36 that Hawaii had. The Highlanders also held the edge in steals and blocks as they got seven steals and five blocks compared to zero steals and four blocks from Hawaii.
The Highlanders played their second game of the week on Saturday, Feb. 22, against the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs (7-20, 4-9). Despite being on the road, Riverside got the victory 61-48 and ended their five-game losing streak.
In 31 minutes of action, junior guard George Willborn III scored 17 points and grabbed four rebounds. Chidom added 14 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
Up next, the Highlanders will battle against UC Santa Barbara (17-9, 6-5) on Thursday, Feb. 27, at the SRC Arena in Riverside.