photo by  Kevin Dinh
photo by Kevin Dinh

The UC Riverside men’s basketball team lost their fifth straight game when they blew an 11-point lead against Cal State Fullerton 79-67.

The Highlanders took on one of the highest scoring teams in the nation, averaging 81 points per game. That average is fourth out of all Division 1 teams. In a regionally televised game, the Highlanders came with energy early in the first half. Five minutes into the game, UCR recovered on defense against Cal State Fullerton’s drive and kick spread offense.

Riverside looked inside with post feeds to Chris Patton, resulting in layups and a dunk. UC Riverside led 11-5 seven minutes into the game. Even when Cal State Fullerton switched to a 2-3 zone, the Highlanders were still able to get points in the paint. An open three-point shot by Robert Smith gave the Highlanders an eleven point lead 28-17.

With 4:30 left in the first, Austin Quick fouled Alex Harris on the three point line. Harris made all three free throws. On the next possession Patton committed an offensive foul and Sammy Yeager hits a three to cut a 29-19 deficit to six as the Highlanders led 29-25. A couple of dunks by Chris Harriel and Josh Fox energized the Student Rec Center. Steven Jones ended the first half with a three-point shot giving the Highlanders a 40-29 lead entering halftime.

As a team, the Highlanders defended the three-point line forcing the Titans into 17 percent from beyond the arc as they shot 3-17. UC Riverside controlled the rebounds with a 20-11 advantage. They controlled the game with their rebounding, however, the Titans would not go away in the second half. In four minutes they cut an 11 point deficit to three as they started to attack off the dribble drive and the Highlanders missed easy opportunities at the rim.

Fullerton’s zone defense affected the Highlanders as they turned it over multiple possessions which led to Sammy Yeager’s free throws and another three pointer to take the lead 49-47 with 14:00 remaining. Patton scored on a layup to regain the lead with nine minutes left 55-54 Yeager responded with a three to take back the lead 57-55.

After that point, the Highlanders kept giving up drives to the rim and open shots from three point range. Titan Yeager drilled a dagger from three with 1:14 left in the game and sealed the game with a dunk a possession later to increase their lead 76-64. The Titans ran the clock and the Highlanders lost 79-67.

Coach Wooldridge was asked about his team’s defensive effort for 40 minutes. “We couldn’t sustain the effort for 40 minutes and we gave a lot of life, you know, early in the second half. We got to stop people and we weren’t able to do that. We just didn’t have any answers. We tried to find something to disrupt the offensive tempo and the rhythm, but that didn’t seem to work. Just a lot of breakdowns in the second half.”

Chris Patton talked about his thoughts on the second half. “Their guards definitely had a different look in their eye in the second half. We just beat them so bad in the first half, I thought they were dead in the water. I just feel like we kind of backed away. [It] just shows you that an 11-point lead is really nothing,” said Patton.

The Highlanders hit the road next with with their first game of the week on Wednesday, Feb. 13 against UC Irvine.