Tiger Who?

Historic Home Win for Highlanders

Rivi's go-to guy

Kyle Austin: Rivi's go-to guy

It’s only happened once  before and, remarkably, it took place at the nadir of the UC Riverside D1 era. A few seasons back, when you could count UCR’s season win tally on one hand, the lowly Highlanders rolled into Stockton and beat Pacific for the first time — a huge upset — on the back of 40 points by Ricky Porter. I remember hoping it was the start of something, but the Highlanders slipped back into the depths, having shot their wad.

On Thursday night, UC Riverside proved that the win at Long Beach wasn’t a fluke by outlasting a tough visiting Pacific team, 66-33, at the Echo Chamber. It was a pivotal game for Rivi, helping to staunch the bleeding caused by dropping 5 of  its last 6 Big West matchups. And it completes the trip from nadir to zenith as the Highlanders’ 12th win of the year sets the new school record for total wins in the D1 era. We’ll see how many they manage to add to that record. At the end of last season, I set .500 as Wooldridge’s bogey. I think the Highlanders have a relatively good shot at surpassing that.

Kyle Austin led the Highlanders, natch, and there was talk of him “taking over” the game a bit more than he has in the past, canning 13 of his game-high 20 points in the second half . Wooldridge runs a team-first program, but even he conceded that, within the confines of the team system, there is flexibility for Kyle to spread his wings a bit more. There’s your green light, kid. Show this country what you’ve got.

Aaron Scott , the veteran Highlander who has been instrumental for continuity over the past couple seasons and who has unselfishly made room for Austin to flourish, was solid with 14 points, and Brandon Dowdy stepped up with 11 on 3-for-4 from behind the arc, including a pair of crucial threes deep in the second half that were momentum killers for the Tigers.

I have to admit that it’s a bit freaky seeing the Highlanders compete like this. They’ve beat of the top teams in the conference and have been “in” every single Big West game. They now face two more huge home games, with Davis in town tonight for Homecoming and Long Beach State looking for revenge next week. Look for the Highlanders to blow some minds by sweeping the homestand.

But I can’t help but thinking that no matter what happens over the next couple weeks, the Highlanders have to keep patiently focusing on developing as a unit while Austin emerges as a conference standout.

Their goal has to be to peak at the right time, over a four-game stretch next month at the Anaheim Convention Center. It’s a long shot, yes,  but it’s well within the realm of reality for this to be the year that Riverside punches its first ticket to the Big Dance. Put that in your pipe and schmoke it.

Pub Wisdom Predicts: UC Riverside 71, UC Davis 59


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