Highlanders 60 – Mustangs 53

On Saturday, the UCR men’s basketball squad faced off against its Big West conference opponent Cal Poly. Cal Poly had its hands full with the UCR team who is now 4-1 after the victory over the Mustangs. This is the Highlanders best conference start, with a four game winning streak.

UCR was able to withhold its 27-22 lead at halftime. Their defense controlled the game as shots were not going their way at times. UCR only shot one free-throw in the first half and missed the attempt to complete a three point play.

The Highlanders shot a superb 50 percent at half compared to Cal Poly’s poor 35 percent. The points in the paint at half were dominated by UCR as they scored 18 to the Mustangs’ eight. The points were distributed all across the board as Phil Martin at the end of the game had 13 points and Kevin Bradshaw contributed 11 as well. UCR showed its furious defense as it forced the Mustangs to commit 13 turnovers.

In the second half, UCR pulled ahead quickly and it seemed as if the game was going to be a blowout by UCR, but as Coach Jim Wooldridge mentioned, “It was a ground-out kind of game.” Throughout the game, it was a dog fight as the Mustangs eventually pulled within three points. However, they struggled against UCR’s tremendous defense and the clutch free-throw shooting by the Highlanders secured a victory.

Coach Wooldridge discussed the team’s performance, saying, “[the team] played solid defense, went to the free-throw line and made key free-throws. We had players step up; you know key moments and a team effort.”

Phil Martin had his best passing game at home with four assists, showing that he is not only a scoring threat, but he can drive and dish out the ball to his teammates and let them score. Martin was asked about his passing ability. “Yeah it’s really important,” he said. “It’s not all about me, it’s to show people that we don’t have to worry about me scoring the ball.”

BJ Shearry was key for the Highlanders as he had seven points and seven rebounds to go along with his five enormous blocks. Free-throw shooting was also key at home as UCR finished 16 of 23 from the free-throw line. They will look to carry that on the road against Cal State Fullerton this Wednesday.

Highlanders 79 – Gauchos 70

Thursday night the UC Riverside men’s basketball team battled against UC Santa Barbara in a Big West show down. It took extra play for the Highlanders to finish the match against the Gauchos for their 79-70 win.

The Gauchos scored the first three points and UCR responded with its own three-pointer by Phil Martin. Buckets were exchanged by both teams for the next few minutes until Highlander Martin stroked a three to put Riverside up, 12-9. UCR eventually went on a run to go up, 19-13. UCSB countered back, tying the game at 19-19 with 8:38 left in the first half.

Martin went off in the first half, going 7-12 from the field and 3-5 from beyond the arc. Martin shot 4-4 from the free throw line with six rebounds and 21 of his 33 points in 17 minutes of play. Free-throw shooting throughout the game was very crucial for the Highlanders as they made 29 out of 35 attempts. In overtime, they shot 10 of 12 as they sealed the win with a score of 79-70 over the visiting UC Santa Barbara. UC Riverside improved to 3-1 in Big West play for the first time in its history and 9-8 overall.

Smith added 16 points for the Highlanders and Nitoto scored 11. Through the last five minutes of regulation, the two teams never lead by more than three points. Orlando Johnson for the Gauchos was sent to the line and made both free throws to put them up by two. Robert Smith got the inbound pass and was fouled and sent to the line. The teams traded baskets to start the extra period, but the Highlanders scored the next nine points, five of which came from the free-throw line. The Highlanders were able hold off the Gauchos with impressive defense to seal the victory.

The defense of Riverside was key throughout the game as they held the struggling Gauchos to 36.4 percent shooting (24 of 66) from the field and an awful 25 percent shooting (6 for 24) from downtown. UCR outplayed UCSB throughout overtime, holding them to only seven points. The game had an astounding 12 tied scores and 13 lead changes by its end.