Coming off its two most successful seasons ever, UC Riverside Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Magpayo said the team was looking to make the jump “from good to great.”
The needle is trending toward Magpayo’s goal. Following a win against Idaho on Dec. 11, the men’s team has won five of its last six games. And his players are hot, having captured Big West Player of the Week honors for two of the past three weeks.
“We are on track and have done very well considering what is a top 70 strength of schedule per Kenpom.com and only one home game to date,” Magpayo said. Kenpom.com is a basketball analytics site. It rates 353 Division I men’s basketball teams on a myriad of criteria, including “strength of schedule,” which considers the difficulty of a team’s schedule based on the gameplay efficiency of its opponents.
The Highlanders are coming off a 16-12 campaign in 2021-22 and this year have an overall 6-3 record. Their next game is Dec. 14, an away contest against the Oregon Ducks.
The six-game run includes a 106-30 blowout on Nov. 19 against Occidental College. It is one of only three times a Big West conference team registered more than 100 points thus far this season.
Senior point guard Zyon Pullin, who won Player of the Week honors for the week ending Dec. 12, is the No. 3 scoring leader in the Big West, with 19.3 points per game. He has registered more than 20 points four times this season, with a high of 27 points against Weber State. He is shooting 60 percent from 3-point range so far this season.
It was Pullin’s fourth career Player of the Week honor, having received the award once in 2021-22, and twice in 2020-21.
Teammate Flynn Cameron, a shooting guard, was named Big West Player of the Week for the week ending Nov. 28. Cameron, who is averaging 11.1 points, twice scored more than 20 points in a game this season. He is No. 6 in the Big West with 14 steals and is tied for fourth with 48 defensive rebounds.
Pullin and Cameron are Nos. 7 and 10 in the conference, respectively, in assists.
“Every great team has a one-two punch, and I think UCR finally has its,” Magpayo said of Pullin and Cameron.
Magpayo is also excited about 6’10” freshman forward Lachlan Olbrich and 6’9” transfer Kyle Owens. Olbrich scored 18 points against Idaho on Dec. 11. Olbrich is averaging more than 10 points per game and leads the team in offensive rebounds. Owens started each of the games during the recent winning streak and scored 11 points against Idaho.
Players from the bench are also contributing notably, including Vlad Salaridze, a sophomore transfer student and native of the country Georgia. Salaridze is shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, and more than 61 percent from three-point range, highest on the team. “You will continue to see Vlad more and more as he figures out our system and program,” said Magpayo, who was honored in 2020-21 as the top first-year NCAA Division I men’s basketball coach.
Following the Ducks, who are 5-5, the Highlanders will have three home games, against the University of San Diego (6-5), Portland (8-5), and CSU Bakersfield (4-5). For more information, visit the men's basketball page on the UCR Athletics web site.