Riverside, CA – The UC Riverside Highlanders played Friday night’s game coming off an 83-82 loss to UC San Diego. The loss was just another close defeat for the Highlanders this season as they’ve been competitive in most of their contests. The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos came into the UCR Student Recreation Center winners of 12 straight games having not lost a game since December 28th to UC Irvine. There would be no loss for the Gauchos on Friday night, as UCSB defeated UCR 72-68.
The game started off with UCSB guard Jaquori McLaughlin playing with great control and displayed a nice change of speed as he’d drive to the paint making plays for his team. The senior guard started his collegiate career with Oregon State and has steadily improved his all-around game since joining the Gauchos in 2018. McLaughlin looked for 6’9” Amadou Sow frequently as Sow led UCSB with nine points and 5 rebounds in the half. The game was evenly matched from the get-go as both teams scored primarily in the paint. Neither team could get much from the outside and there was only one 3-pointer made in the first 15 minutes of action. The shooting woes started to disappear when former Oregon Duck, Miles Norris, hit back to back 3-pointers right before the 4:00 media timeout, giving the Gauchos their biggest separation of the half with an 8-point lead (29-21). Following the timeout, George Willborn sparked the Highlanders offense off the bench and picked up six quick points, while senior big man Jock Perry cut the deficit even closer after he followed his own miss with a put back at the rim. UCR guard Zyon Pullin would then hit a jumper to make the game 31-29 going into halftime.
UCR came out the second half ready to play as they took the lead after a baseline jumper from leading scorer, Arinze Chidom, followed by a 3-pointer from Dominick Pickett. UCSB responded with McLaughlin operating with the ball in his hands, where he took what the defense gave him and ball faked two Highlander defenders, dumping it off to Sow for the fiery slam dunk. The Gauchos seized momentum and went up 57-46 when Devearl Ramsey knocked down a 3. However, the momentum didn’t last long because UCR fought back and went on an 11-0 run tying the game back up at 57 all, highlighted by a Chidom steal which led to a Willborn 3-pointer. UCSB would call timeout and settle down when junior Sekou Toure put a halt to the run and hit a mid-range jump shot. The Highlanders answered with a 3 from Flynn Cameron making it 67-66.
The game went back and forth as Norris used his smooth shooting stroke to sink a 3 to give the Gauchos a 70-66 lead. Following a pair of Pullin FTs, UCSB couldn’t seal the game and UCR had one last chance to send the game to OT or win in regulation. Pullin would go on to miss a left-handed shot at the basket and Sow would secure the win at the FT line giving UCSB the 72-68 win. Chidom led UCR with 17 points and Pullin ended with 13 points with a strong second half. The Gauchos were led by the heart and hustle of Sow, 21 points and eight rebounds and McLaughlin with 15 points and seven assists.
UC Riverside (10-7, 6-5) will look to avenge their loss to the Gauchos on Saturday night when they face them again. UC Santa Barbara (17-3, 13-2) will try to get their win streak to 14 with a sweep of UCR in their next game. The Highlanders remain in fourth place in the Big West standings, while the Gauchos are safely in the lead. Both teams are gearing up for the Big West Conference Tournament and UCSB would officially lock up an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament with a conference tournament championship. The bid would be the program’s first since the 2010-2011 season.