Fresh off an impressive home victory over conference favorite UC Santa Barbara, the UC Riverside women’s basketball team continues its home stand in the toughest test of the young Big West slate tonight against conference-leader Cal Poly.
After coming up empty on a five-game road trip, including losses in the first two league games, the Highlanders (5-12 overall, 2-2 Big West) have pulled off two impressive home wins to even their conference mark. Revenge will be on the mind of UCR, as the Mustangs (11-5, 4-1) knocked Riverside out of the Big West Tournament a year ago, ending the Highlanders’ bid to earn a repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Five players scored in double-figures in UCR’s win over the Gauchos last week, and a balanced offensive effort will be needed to counter the dominance of junior forward Kristina Santiago, who leads the Big West with 20.2 points per game, while also pulling down nearly eight boards a contest.
The Highlanders have two more games, including Saturday’s match up with UC Irvine, on their current home streak. Given that the road has been perilous for Riverside, as the squad has posted a 1-8 record away from the Student Recreation Center, these next two games are vital to UCR climbing into the think of the Big West race.
Over on the men’s side, the Highlander’s league campaign has taken a turn for the worst since opening Big West play with a thrilling 69-67 overtime victory over preseason favorite Long Beach State. Riverside (7-10, 1-4) has dropped its past four conference games and resides in ninth place, a dubious distinction in a conference that sends eight teams to the postseason tournament.
UCR’s low-octane offense has played a large part in the squad’s slow start to league play, but tonight’s contest with Cal Poly should be a golden opportunity for the offensive cylinders to start clicking. The host Mustangs (6-10, 3-2) own the worst defense in the Big West, allowing 74 points a game, and the Highlanders will look for someone outside of junior forward Kyle Austin to carry some offensive weight.
Austin has led UCR in scoring in seven of the past eight games and comes in as the Big West’s second leading scorer at 16.8 points per game. Riverside hopes senior guard Sean Cunningham can find some consistency to his offensive game to go along with the steady presence of senior guard Larry Gurganious, who ranks second on the team behind Austin in both scoring and rebounding.
The league season flies by quickly, and as January nears its end, there is no time better than now for the men’s squad to start climbing to the rest of the pack.