Since Drake U’u took over the point guard duties for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team, the fifth-year senior has mainly been seen charging hard to the basket and dishing to teammates.
He’s usually the one setting up sharpshooters Dylan Royer, Reese Morgan and Kyle Odister with 3-point shots.
In Thursday’s 17-point comeback victory over visiting UC Riverside, U’u took one of his own — his only 3-point attempt of the game — and it might have been the biggest shot of his career.
“I only have a few games left,” said U’u, who finished with six points and eight rebounds. “It’s my senior year, and I need to step up into the big time.
“I saw the shot clock was low, and I just kind of saw it was going to be an open shot. I just lined it up and I did my best Reese Morgan and Dylan Royer impression, shot a 3 and fortunately, it went in.”
U’u’s spot-up 3 from the right wing plopped in with 2:18 left, giving the Mustangs (16-12, 11-6 Big West Conference) a four-point cushion that turned into a 68-62 victory by the final buzzer.
“He lined it up, and he just stroked it,” Morgan said. “That was huge. … That was definitely a momentum changer.
“I have faith in Drake. I think he needs to shoot a little bit more sometimes.”
Cal Poly set a program record for Big West victories and extended its home winning streak over conference opponents to 13. The streak looked to be in serious jeopardy before a furious comeback effort was sparked by a slump-busting string of 3-pointers by Morgan.
The redshirt freshman and former Parade All-American came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers in a span of fewer than four minutes.
When Morgan entered the game in the second half, the Mustangs trailed by 13. By the time he hit his third 3, Cal Poly was trailed 51-50 with 10:06 left.
“He’s great to play with,” U’u said. “He has a lot off energy, a lot of passion and his shot-making was huge for us.”
Morgan finished 4 for 4 from 3-point range and 4 for 4 from the free-throw line to finish with 16 points. It was his first double-digit scoring game since Jan. 24.
It was also his first game with multiple 3-pointers since Feb. 2, and before he hit a 3-pointer in last Saturday’s victory at Hawaii, Morgan had gone four games without sinking one from deep.
“I’d been struggling a little bit when I did get my open shots,” Morgan said, “but today, my teammates and my coaches never lost faith in me. They kept giving me the ball when I was open, and I finally started to hit some.”
After shooting 69.2 percent from the floor in the first half, UC Riverside (6-24, 3-14 Big West) led 40-26 and pushed its lead to 17 with 15:11 left in the second.
Though the Highlanders had lost 10 of 11 coming into the game, they were the obvious aggressors early, and center Chris Patton was having his way inside.
Fourteen of Patton’s team-high 18 points came in the first half, when he shot 7 of 9 from the floor. The Mustangs began to pay him special attention in the second, largely using forward Chris Eversley to defend the UC Riverside big man after the break.
Patton was just 2 for 7 in the second half, and the Highlanders’ shooting percentage plummeted to 28 percent in the second half.
Eversley scored a game-high 19 points, including two 3-pointers, and Brian Bennett added 10 points for Cal Poly, which sits alone in third place in the Big West standings with only Saturday’s regular-season finale against Cal State Fullerton at Mott Gym left to play.
Odister made his first return to the court after sitting out two road games with what turned out to be a bunion flare-up last week, Callero said.
Playing just four minutes, Odister was able to hit a 3. Odister practiced for the first time in nearly a week Wednesday, and Callero said he was being cautious with the junior guard anticipating next Thursday’s opening round of the conference tournament.
“We want to have him in the arsenal going into the Big West Tournament,” Callero said, “having every option available.”