RIVERSIDE – Junior guard Kuba Niziol (above) finished with a team high 15 points, but the Cal Poly men's basketball program never led Thursday evening versus UC Riverside and dropped a 72-63 decision inside SRC Arena.
Senior forward Luke Meikle and junior guard Donovan Fields each finished with 14 points for Cal Poly (9-20, 4-11), which had the opportunity to solidify the No. 7 seed for the March 8-10 Big West Conference Tournament with a victory on Thursday. UC Riverside (9-20, 4-11) instead moved into a seventh-place tie alongside Cal Poly with one regular season matchup remaining for both programs.
Cal Poly can now clinch the seventh seed with either a victory during Saturday's 7 p.m. finale at UC Santa Barbara or a UC Riverside Saturday loss at Long Beach State (7:30 p.m.). Should both programs finish with identical Big West records, Cal Poly will claim the No. 7 seed by virtue of owning the tiebreaker against UC Riverside.
Meikle added a game high nine rebounds to finish one board shy of his fourth career double-double.
During Thursday's matchup, the Highlanders sank three of their first five three-point attempts to grab an early 11-3 lead. The Mustangs cut their deficit to 21-16 with nine minutes remaining in the first half following a three-pointer from freshman guard Iziah James, but UC Riverside answered with a 7-0 run to produce the evening's first double-digit lead.
A three-pointer from junior guard Marcellus Garrick quenched Cal Poly's drought and the Mustangs held UC Riverside to just two field goals during the final six minutes of the opening half. Cal Poly, however, trailed at the break, 34-26, after Fields sank a three-pointer 37 seconds from intermission.
Cal Poly's gap remained at eight points until Niziol's second three-pointer of the night brought UC Riverside's lead down to 43-38 with 12-and-a-half minutes to play.
Still trailing 49-41 with seven minutes remaining, Cal Poly saw Niziol complete a three-point play. The five-point differential was as close as Cal Poly came to UC Riverside, however, until two Meikle free throws with 18 seconds to play brought the Mustangs to a 66-62 deficit.
With the Mustangs forced to foul to regain possession late though, UC Riverside guard Dikymbe Martin went 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the final minute to preserve the Highlander advantage.