Bulldog Men's Basketball Shows Depth in 78-65 Victory over LIFE Pacific at Lee Fulmer Classic

Photo credit: Olivia de la Cruz
Photo credit: Olivia de la Cruz

The University of Redlands men's basketball team faced off against the LIFE Pacific College Warriors on Friday night at the 2015 Lee Fulmer Memorial Classic in the friendly confines of Currier Gym. While leading wire to wire, the Bulldogs controlled the tempo and rhythm of the game with an evenly dispersed effort, resulting in a 78-65 victory over LIFE Pacific.

The Bulldogs got off to a solid start by scoring on their first two possessions. Senior forward Al Bjekovic (Maribor, Slovenia) inked the opening bucket on a lay-up, which was followed by a jumper from sophomore center Blake O'Brien (Sammamish, WA). Senior center Shawn James (Plano TX) checked into the contest early and made an immediate impact by burying a triple for the Bulldogs' 11-7 advantage less than five minutes into the game.

The Maroon and Gray's bench kept things hot, with freshman guard Joey Sponheim (Redlands, CA) and junior forward Zack Whittet (Palm Desert, CA) combining for four points in a two-minute spurt. James added another bucket after sophomore guard Wyatt Pannabecker (Choteau, MT) threaded the needle on a pass down low to put Redlands up by a score of 17-11 lead with 13:32 to go in the first frame.

Pannabecker and Sponheim continued to impress, as Pannabecker found an opening in the lane and drove the basket for two. Moments later Sponheim knocked down a corner three-ball, which was assisted by sophomore forward Reed Hopkins (Spokane, WA).

After a short scoring drought by both squads, Redlands looked to sophomore forward Nate Battisti (Seattle, WA) to rise up from a distance to hit a three before converting a lay-up two minutes later to give the Bulldogs a 27-18 lead with 6:46 remaining on the clock.

However, the Warriors clawed their way back to trim the deficit to two points by the 2:40-mark, before Hopkins distanced the Bulldogs with a turn-around jumper at the top of the key. O'Brien added to the advantage by taking care of business at the charity stripe. Furthermore, Bjekovic remained potent by kissing a lay-up off the glass and notching two points at the free-throw line on consecutive possessions to extend Redlands' lead to 35-25 lead at halftime.

The Bulldogs hit the ground running in the second frame, as senior forward Kyle Milligan (Portland, OR) hauled in a rebound off of a missed Warrior lay-up, which set up a three-pointer for junior guard Sean Milligan (Portland, OR) to fuel the offensive rhythm for the Bulldogs. Bjekovic followed by converting an and-one play on the ensuing possession, which was set up perfectly by K. Milligan, resulting in the home team's 41-30 lead at the 17:48 mark.

However, the Warriors continued to chip away at Redlands' lead, eventually making it a six-point game with 9:31 left to play. Bjekovic ended the Bulldog scoring slide by knocking down two free-throws before taking sophomore guard Kyle Husslein's (Tauming, Guam) pass to the glass for a bucket. Bjekovic returned the favor minutes later by finding an open Husslein on a no-look dish, setting up an easy lay-up for the Bulldogs' 59-55 advantage with 4:31 remaining.

Sponheim took over the reins offensively for a two-minute span by netting nine points, which was ignited by a bucket from behind the arc.

From then on, the Bulldogs converted their shots from the charity stripe en route to the 78-65 victory.

Bjekovic was an animal offensively by draining a team-high 21 points and crashing the boards for eight rebounds. Sponheim backed him with 14 points while feeding two assists.

O'Brien was one rebound shy of a double-double after dropping 10 points and hauling in nine rebounds. S. Milligan was a defensive masterpiece by reeling in nine boards and pocketing five steals with multiple hustle plays on Gary Smith Court. In addition, he dished out three assists.

K. Milligan led the defensive charge down low by holding the Warrior big men to a combined four points. Furthermore, he notched five rebounds and three assists.

James and Battisti were solid contributors off the pine by tallying seven points each while combining for a perfect 2-for-2 from long range.

As a team, the Bulldogs out-rebounded the opponents, 50-31 and out-scored them off the bench by a margin of 40-4. Redlands won virtually every category, including one less turnover, eight more second-chance opportunities, and out-scored them in the paint by a ratio of 36-24.

Redlands (4-1) faces off against the University of Antelope Valley Pioneers on Saturday at 7 p.m. for the final game of the 2015 Lee Fulmer Memorial Classic.

Pomona-Pitzer vs. Antelope Valley

After trailing by 11 points early in the second half, the Pomona-Pitzer Colleges Sagehens inched their way back into the game to overtake the University of Antelope Valley Pioneers by a score of 84-78. The Sagehens' three-point shooting came into play, as Hunter Lowry, Corbin Koch, and Gibson Farone-Collins each knocked down a long ball during their comeback.

Now up by one with 11:51 remaining, Lowry and Koch kept the long-range mojo flowing with back-to-back three-balls for Pomona-Pitzer's 61-54 advantage.

From here, the Sagehens stayed hot and took care of the ball before winning the contest at the charity stripe.

Koch and Farone-Collins contributed 18 points apiece, while Daniel Rosenbaum chipped in 17 points for Pomona-Pitzer.

Each of Antelope Valley's starting five scored in double digits, but it was Franky Teran who led the Pioneers with 17 points off the bench.

Pomona-Pitzer shot slightly better at a 48.4% clip, while UAV converted 43.33% of its attempts. The Pioneers forced 12 Sagehen turnovers that resulted in 11 steals, but Pomona-Pitzer won the rebounding battle with a 44-33 margin.

Pomona-Pitzer faces LIFE Pacific in Saturday's 5 p.m. game of the Lee Fulmer Classic in Currier Gym.