After last season’s three wins and a 10th place finish, UC Riverside (5-9) looks to improve its record in the upcoming conference season.

During their nine losses in non-conference play, the Highlanders narrowly missed the win in five separate contests; oftentimes, the deficit could often be attributed to a single possession situation.

“We’ve been in a number of close games,” Interim Head Coach Dennis Cutts said. “I think all of that has prepared us to have success in January and February.”

UCR’s leading scorers are sophomore forward Taylor Johns and senior forward Chris Patton, who are averaging 12.4 and 12.8 points a game, respectively. Junior guard Nick Gruninger directs the Highlanders’ offense, averaging 3.0 assists per game. Up-and-coming freshman guard Sam Finley led the team with 19 points against Waldorf College.

“Statistically, it’s our front line, but we’re getting some more balance out of our perimeter,” Cutts said.

Taylor Johns leads the Highlanders’ defense, averaging 2.1 blocks and 5.6 defensive rebounds per game.

“I think we’re improved and I have a [few] more weapons to compete [with],” Cutts said. “I think we’ll be better and more competitive this year.”

Cutts was an assistant coach for seven years for the Highlanders before taking over for Jim Wooldridge.

The Highlanders open conference play on Thursday at Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m.


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