LA JOLLA, Calif. - As the 2018-19 college basketball season rapidly approaches, the University of California San Diego men's program has its sights set on a fourth-consecutive trip to the NCAA postseason. Loaded with returning firepower and a slew of talented newcomers, the Tritons are poised to prove that their aim is true.
"We've been back at it for a couple of weeks now, it's always nice to get the guys back on campus," said UC San Diego head coach Eric Olen. "We're working hard, we've made some progress. We've got a lot of new faces and we're excited about those guys and the group as a whole."
UC San Diego returns four starters from a 2017-18 team that posted a 21-11 overall record and a 15-7 mark in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA). The Tritons tore through the conference tournament, defeating Stanislaus State, Chico State, and 19th-ranked Cal Poly Pomona en route to winning their second-straight (third overall) championship and a berth in the NCAA Division II West Regional for the fourth time.
"We have a good core group coming back," said Olen. "It's always helpful to have experienced guys that have been through the league, so we're fortunate in that regard. At the same time, each team is different, each year is different and we're trying to figure out which combinations of players work. The returners and new guys are all competing to create roles for themselves."
Leading the charge are a pair of senior all-conference picks in guard Christian Bayne and swingman Christian Oshita, who each averaged over 16 points a game last season. Oshita, also an all-region selection and one of UC San Diego's Athletes of the Year, led the team in rebounding (6.8/game). Bayne was money at the free throw line, making 156 of his 171 attempts, 91 percent. He also led the team with 45 steals.
Junior Scott Everman and senior Eric Patton, both forwards, are also back. Everman was the third Triton to average double-figure points (12.1) and he totaled 78 three-pointers and 17 blocks, both team-highs. Patton earned 19 starts and averaged 5.1 points and 4.1 boards before injury sidelined him for most of the second half of the season.
Junior big man Chris Hansen makes a welcome return to the floor this season after redshirting the 2017-18 campaign following shoulder surgery. He was an All-CCAA First Team pick as a sophomore and the league's Freshman of the Year in 2016.
Guards Mikey Howell (San Marcos/San Marcos HS) and Ben Rico, along with forward Martin Tombe (San Diego/St. Augustine HS) return as well. As a redshirt freshman last season, Howell saw action in all 32 games and dished out a team-high 83 assists.
Guard Tyrell Roberts is poised for a successful debut after redshirting as a true freshman last year.
UC San Diego adds seven first-year Tritons including three transfers and four true freshmen.
Coming in from other programs are guards Gabe Hadley (New Mexico State), Jeremy Johnson (Wisconsin Milwaukee), and Connor Peterson (Azusa Pacific). The freshman group, all from California, includes guards Will Pallesi (Selma HS), Justin Pratt (De La Salle HS), Kaden Rasheed (Santa Margarita HS), and Lunden Taylor (San Joaquin Memorial HS).
"I think we have a lot of good players that can put it in the basket, play multiple positions, and defend at a high level," said Olen. "I think that our individual talent level is really good. The rest of it is just trying to get everyone on the same page and develop as a group. That will take a lot of work and a lot of commitment from everyone to become a really good team."
For the Tritons, the road to the postseason goes through 29 regular season contests, 14 of those taking place in La Jolla at a newly-refurbished RIMAC Arena.
Just over a month away, UC San Diego's season starts Nov. 9-10 as it hosts a West Region preview tournament featuring squads from the CCAA and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC). The two-day, four-team CCAA/GNAC Challenge welcomes Cal State Dominguez Hills, Simon Fraser, and Western Washington to America's Finest City.
"Right from the start, we're playing some good teams," said Olen. "Simon Fraser and Western Washington are regional games that can really impact your standing late in the season."
The Tritons then play two more non-conference games prior to opening CCAA play, hosting the GNAC's Saint Martin's on Nov. 12 and traveling across the city to take on the PacWest's Point Loma on Nov. 14.
UC San Diego's 22-game CCAA slate tips off on Nov. 20 at home when Cal State San Bernardino visits for a rare Tuesday night contest. Chico State is then in town four days later on Nov. 24 for a game not to be missed as the Tritons vs. Wildcats rivalry always produces excitement.
Local fans won't have to travel far to see UC San Diego in early December as the Tritons play at cross-county foe Cal State San Marcos on the first of the month and then host San Francisco State on the sixth.
Check your frequent flyer balance because UC San Diego travels to Oahu for the Hoops in Hawai'i Holiday Classic, hosted by Hawai'i Pacific Dec. 16-18. Joining the Tritons and Sharks at the Hawai'i Convention Center in Honolulu will be Chaminade, Dallas Baptist, Emmanuel, Southern Nazarene, Western Oregon, and Western Washington. That tournament will wrap up regular season, non-conference play for UC San Diego.
To close out 2018, UC San Diego hosts Humboldt State on Dec. 29 and Sonoma State on New Year's Eve.
January of 2019 has seven contests on the slate, but just two in La Jolla, including the annual extravaganza known as Spirit Night. Expect a sellout crowd at RIMAC Arena as the Tritons entertain Stanislaus State on the 31st.
A challenging start to February pits UC San Diego against reigning CCAA regular season champion Cal Poly Pomona on the road.
The regular season shuts down with a pair of home games, Cal State Monterey Bay on Feb. 28 and Cal State East Bay on March 2.
Looking at the postseason, the CCAA Tournament begins on March 5 with quarterfinals at campus sites. The semifinals and title game will be hosted by Cal State East Bay in Hayward on March 8 and March 9.
The NCAA West Regional is slated for March 16-18, while the Elite Eight will be played March 27-30 in Evansville, Ind. UC San Diego advanced to the regional championship game in 2016 and 2017.
Fans are in for a treat in La Jolla this season as the new-look RIMAC Arena features several upgrades to provide a first-class live event experience. The project, which wrapped up in late September, added new seating, a 50-foot wide video board, a skybox, state-of-the-art LED scorer's tables, free-standing baskets, and a video production suite.
"It's nice to be at home and I think our guys are excited about the opportunity to play in the renovated arena," said Olen. "It will provide a better experience for our fans and create a great atmosphere with increased energy during the games. When you can feel that from the crowd, it give the guys a little extra juice."
As always, all regular season home games are free for UC San Diego students. For ticket information, click here.
About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles, and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in the summer of 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's pre-eminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 36 have earned prestigious NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.
Follow the Tritons
For complete coverage and information regarding UC San Diego Athletics, follow the Tritons online at UCSDTritons.com and through social media on Twitter (@UCSDTritons), Instagram (@UCSDTritons) and Facebook (UCSDTritons). To stay tuned in to UC San Diego Men's Basketball, follow the team's Instagram (@UCSDmbb) and Twitter (@UCSDmbb), as well as Head Coach Eric Olen's Twitter (@CoachEricOlen) and Associate Head Coach Clint Allard's Twitter (@CoachAllard).