GAME NOTES: The Big West Conference schedule kicks into gear on Saturday afternoon, as the Cal Poly Mustangs pay a visit to the UC Riverside Highlanders.
Cal Poly challenged itself with a very difficult non-conference schedule this season, and it paid the price as it sits with a sub-.500 record. Although the Mustangs have an impressive win over UCLA (70-68), they have struggled on the road otherwise, with losses at TCU (53-46), Saint Mary's (86-68), Nevada (69-56), Santa Clara (75-64), and most recently, at Washington (75-62).
UCR's season has gotten off to an even slower start than the Mustangs', as it has lost nine of its first 12 matchups. The Highlanders have dropped three of four, including a 61-53 decision versus Air Force last Saturday. The good news is that all three of UCR's wins this season have come on its home floor.
The Mustangs have prevailed in six of the last eight matchups with the Highlanders, including in a 66-54 decision in the 2012 Big West Conference Tournament quarterfinals. After 86 all-time meetings, the series is knotted at 43-43.
Cal Poly has been overmatched by its opponents in nearly every facet of the game this year, as it sports a minus-0.6 scoring margin and minus-2.6 rebounding margin, while shooting just 42.7 percent from the floor. The Mustangs struggled yet again in their 13-point loss to Washington, allowing the Huskies to make good on better than 51 percent of their field goal attempts. Despite the setback, Chris Eversley put forth a strong performance, scoring 23 points on 8-of-15 from the floor while adding five rebounds and three assists. Dylan Royer chipped in 10 points, but did so on just 3-of-10 shooting. Eversley is one of the Big West's most consistent performers this year, tallying 16.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.5 apg and 1.1 spg. Brian Bennett (10.2 ppg) and Royer (10.0 ppg) have been solid, and while Jamal Johnson isn't much of a factor on the scoreboard (3.6 ppg), he has started every game at point guard and has 47 assists against only 16 turnovers.
While Cal Poly has been a disappointment shooting the ball, UCR is the conference's worst offensive team no matter which way you shake it, as it ranks last in scoring (57.9 ppg), field goal percentage (.389), 3-point percentage (.269), and free throw percentage (.539). It was the same old story in the eight-point loss to Air Force, as the Highlanders actually committed more turnovers (19) than it had field goal (18). Luckily, Chris Patton was able to give his team some life off the bench with 14 points, while Robert Smith added 11 points in the disappointing effort. Chris Harriel leads the club in scoring with 10.4 ppg, but it comes at a steep price as he shoots just 33.1 percent from the floor, including a woeful 18.2 percent from 3-point range. Patton is the only other Highlander to net double figures on a nightly basis with 10.0 ppg.
With two of the league's least explosive teams going head to head, this matchup is sure to be a defensive struggle throughout. Cal Poly hasn't had much success in Riverside in recent years, but while the Mustangs have their own problems on offense, they don't compare to those of the Highlanders, meaning Cal Poly should be able to muster up enough points to squeak out a tough road win.
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