Last Wednesday, the UC Riverside men’s basketball team took a trip down to Cal State Fullerton. The Highlanders hoped to keep their hot winning streak alive maintain their position in the tough first-place battle with their conference opponent Long Beach State. The Titans shattered their hopes of a first-place seed and a 5-1 conference start as UCR now stands at 4-2 with its loss to the Cal State Fullerton Titans. UCR lost the match, 61-72. The 72 points allowed were the most scored against Riverside since San Diego State scored 80 in an 80-55 victory on Dec. 19, 2011.
When Coach Jim Wooldridge was asked about the points given up, he said, “We were disappointed how we played. I know the team was disappointed on the outcome.” Wooldridge went on to talk about the things the team needs to do to win games, “[The players] understand they need to buy in on what they’re doing, defensively and offensively. We got out of character a little. We gave up 66 percent at second half. We’re not going to beat anyone like that.”
The match ups against the Titans were a complete struggle for the Highlanders as Fullerton came in and challenged UCR. Wooldridge’s team was held to 36.7 percent shooting (11-30) and shot a poor 18 percent (2-11) behind the arc. For the most part, the free-throw shooting was where it was all year, decent at 57 percent (4-7). The guards for Riverside struggled to find their groove and collectively as a bunch scored a sufficient amount of points.
The Highlanders’ Robert Smith shot in double figures, scoring 11 points, going for 3-8. His only three buckets were from behind the arc (3-4) while making two of three free-throws. Phil Martin struggled with nine points (4-13) but added five assists. Kareem Nitoto went 3-13, scoring nine points as he jacked up eight threes, only making one. As a team, they shot 30 percent (6-20) from behind the arc, but forced 16 turnovers that led to 17 points.
As the first half came to an end, everything looked good for Riverside, leading by as many as nine points when they went on a 13-3 run midway through the period. Defense was the focus for the Highlanders. They forced the Titans to shoot 37 percent (10-27) from the floor and 25 percent (3-12) from three-point land. However, the two teams picked up their competition in the second period and UCR gave up 45 points, only scoring 33 of their own, which were insufficient to beat the Titans.
The Titans opened up the second half on a 17-4 run, turning a one-point lead by UCR to an 11-point lead in their favor. The deficit for Riverside ended up being too much to handle.
Runs are part of the game and Coach Wooldridge was asked if he had any ways of preventing runs. “We just need to go back to our formula,” he said. “We have been a great defensive team and sharing the ball for high percentage shots. It’s a greedy defensive team and good teamwork on the offensive game and team help. If we do that we believe we can be very successful.”
Fullerton had two players scoring well into the double figures. Kwame Vaughn went off for 28 points (11-15), two steals and five rebounds. D.J. Seeley contributed with 22 points (7-17) and two steals as he drained four threes from behind the arc and grabbed eight rebounds. The Titans were able to shoot an astounding 66.7 percent in the second half for a total 52 percent at the end of the game. UCR only shot 50 percent in the second period and finished shooting 42.6 percent overall.
The Highlanders have a week off before returning to play Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Student Recreation Center against Long Beach State.