Hansel Chu, Assistant Sports Editor
The 2022 Big West Conference Tournament tipped off at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada from March 8-12. The winner of the tournament would secure their ticket to the NCAA March Madness Tournament. After a tumultuous season for both the men’s and women’s teams because of COVID-19 protocols, canceled games and injuries, the Highlanders finished off the regular season strong and were ready for the postseason.
The men’s basketball team finished the regular season with a 16-12 (9-6) record and placed sixth in the Big West Conference standings going into the tournament. The Highlanders were to face the third-seeded Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Thursday night, March 10. The game started off hot for UC Riverside as graduate student guard Dominick Pickett sank three 3-pointers to give UCR a 19-9 lead. A layup from redshirt junior center Callum McRae put the Highlanders up 24-15 with 4:07 left until halftime. However, Hawaii stormed back to close the first half as a stepback 3-pointer from guard Junior Madut brought the UCR lead down to 31-30.
Both teams continued to battle it out in the second half as the game went down to the wire. With under two minutes to go, a layup from sophomore Wil Tattersal brought the score to 65-66 in favor of Hawaii. After a missed free throw from Madut, Tattersal had a chance to win the game with a 3-pointer, but the shot was wide left. The Rainbow Warriors knocked off the Highlanders 67-68 in the first round. Junior guard Zyon Pullin led all scorers with 23 points along with four rebounds and five assists. Redshirt junior guard Flynn Cameron also put up 17 points, which included five 3-pointers. “I’m very very proud of these guys. Three straight winning seasons, really building something to be proud of,” said Head Coach Mike Magpayo after the game.
The women’s basketball team finished the regular season with a 14-11 (10-6) record and placed fourth in the Big West Conference standings. The Highlanders took on the fifth-seeded UC Santa Barbara in the first round. UC Riverside saw themselves fall behind early in the first half, as they trailed by as much as 8 points. However, a late 7-0 second-quarter run from UCR brought the game score to 29-28 at halftime. In the second half, the Highlanders once again fell behind, but again they battled and came back into the ball game. In the fourth quarter, the game went back and forth as neither team seemed to be able to take control of the lead. With under two minutes left in the game remained 41-40 in favor of UCR, and with 25 seconds left on the clock, junior guard Jada Holland connected on a layup to give the Highlanders a 43-40 lead, in which UC Riverside would hold onto win 46-42 and advance into round two. Holland led the team with 12 points, while junior forward Anna Blount put up 10 points and six rebounds.
In the semifinals, UCR faced off against the top-seeded Hawaii Rainbow Wahines led by the Player of the Year Amy Atwell. Early in the game, the Highlanders fell behind early as Hawaii seemed to be one step ahead of them. In the second quarter, the Rainbow Wahines poured it on from downtown as they went 7-7 from 3-point range in the quarter. Atwell led the charge for Hawaii as she connected on five 3-pointers in the quarter, extending the lead by as much as 26 points in the first half. The Highlanders came out with aggression in the third quarter as they managed to narrow the deficit back down to 11. However, Hawaii proved why they were the top seed in the conference as they hit timely buckets to give them the win 69-55 over UC Riverside. Holland led the team with 15 points, four rebounds and five assists. Redshirt senior Olivia West also contributed with 12 points in the game. “I didn’t think we played like ourselves in the first half … but terrific second half, terrific fight, really proud of our team the way we finished the game,” said Head Coach Nicole Powell after the game.
University of Hawaii went on to win the women’s bracket, facing off against UC Irvine in an incredible 59-48 victory. University of Hawaii trailed early in the game, but the continuous efforts from the Rainbow Wahine led to an eventual win. Cal State Fullerton went on to win the men’s bracket as they defeated Long Beach State in a thrilling 72-71 victory. The hot shooting from 3-point range from the Titans led their comeback win against the Elbees.
The Highlanders will now look to bring in transfer athletes from different programs, develop younger talent, continue to build on their winning seasons and make the Big West Conference championship next season.