GAME NOTES: The UC Riverside Highlanders and the Pepperdine Waves are set to do battle on Wednesday night in a non-conference bout at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu.
The early slate of games has not been friendly to UCR, as it has lost six of eight. The Highlanders traveled up to Anchorage to take part in the Great Alaska Shootout only to come away empty-handed in three tries. They were able to bounce back in their return home, beating Northern Colorado last Saturday, 69-63.
Pepperdine started the campaign on a down note with back-to-back losses to instate rivals Cal State Northridge (81-75) and California (79-62) before ripping off four straight wins. The Waves went to overtime for the third time this season last Saturday against Utah Valley, but they were unable to keep their winning streak alive as they fell, 67-63.
Although the two campuses are separated by less than 90 miles, the teams have only played each other four times before, with the last bout coming in 1977. Pepperdine has won three of the four matchups.
It has been an ugly start for a UCR offense that scores just 60.6 ppg, as it has put forth lackluster percentages from the field (.420), beyond the three- point line (.248), and at the free throw stripe (.527). The Highlanders had one of their better offensive performances of the year in their last game against Northern Colorado however, shooting 44.2 percent from the floor, although a poor effort from the foul line (21-of-45) nearly allowed their 26- point second half lead to disappear down the stretch. Robert Smith scored 21 points in the victory, while Chris Harriel tallied 17 points and logged seven steals for a team that forced 23 turnovers on the night. Harriel is the club's leading scorer with 11.4 ppg, but he has been off the mark from long range, making only 9-of-52 from three-point territory (.173). Josh Fox (10.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Chris Patton (10.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg) are nearly clones of each other in the front court.
Pepperdine was effective from the floor in its recent matchup with Utah Valley, shooting 48.2 percent, but in the overtime period it made just 2-of-9 field goal attempts as it lost for the first in nearly three weeks. Lorne Jackson scored a team-high 17 points, and Stacy Davis logged a true double- double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Caleb Willis also had 12 points, and he added nine boards and five assists. On the season, the Waves are shooting a respectable 44.3 percent from the field for 66.1 ppg, but thanks to a negative-4.1 turnover margin, they actually allow more points to their opponents (66.3 ppg) despite sporting an impressive .397 field goal percentage defense. Jackson has been a potent scorer through seven games with 17.0 ppg and he leads the team with 12 three-point field goals. Davis has been a sturdy piece on the inside with 12.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg, and even though Willis isn't typically a big factor on the scoreboard (7.6 ppg), he has dished out 33 assists coupled with only 12 turnovers.
UCR has done little on the young season to disprove the pundits that selected the team to finish near the bottom of the Big West Conference standings, and it will have difficulty winning road games all season long. Expect Pepperdine to get back on track.
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