By Kyle Cape-Lindelin, Staff Writer -- email@example.com
As the regular season for the men's basketball team comes to a close, Pilot fans are seeing flashes of what the future can be as the team's youth is starting to pay off.
The Pilots displayed spirited play on their final southern California road trip, though it ended with an overtime loss to San Diego 78-75 on Feb. 16 and another close loss to Pepperdine 70-65 on Feb. 18.
"It's great that we're playing with more intensity as we end the season," senior forward Nemanja Mitrovic said. "We all wish that it would have translated to wins, but it gives me confidence going into my final WCC tournament."
Despite the losses, fans can look at the box score and the fiery effort from the young players as they come into their own. Freshman guard Kevin Bailey scored 18 points in both games, including hitting the game-tying three as the clock expired to force overtime against San Diego. Sophomore guard Tanner Riley completed a career-high 16 points while freshman forward Dorian Cason also scored a career-high 13 points against Pepperdine.
"I'm very impressed with how our team is battling right now," Head Coach Eric Reveno said. "Even though we're struggling getting wins, we're giving the effort we need to compete."
This change in attitude and effort will add great momentum to the Pilots as they prepare for their final home game of the season versus No. 16 ranked St. Mary's tonight at 7 p.m. The game will also be nationally televised on ESPNU and online at ESPN3.com. Following tonight's game, the Pilots travel to face BYU this Saturday at 3 p.m. before heading to Las Vegas for the WCC tournament. The tournament begins Feb. 29 with the championship game being played on March 5.
"I think we're playing with confidence right now and doing the right things in terms of effort that it takes to be successful," Reveno said. "From defense, decision-making and playing as a team, they're all starting to put it together which makes me hopeful for our trip to Las Vegas."
The Pilots will enter the tournament as underdogs, likely playing as the No. 8 or 9 spot on Feb. 29 unless the Pilots can upset either St. Mary's or BYU to get a bye into the second round games that play on March 1.
"It's nothing new for us to being looked down on, we've been facing that all season," Bailey said. "We need to keep bringing it a full four quarters and play like there's no tomorrow."
The Pilots suffered a harsh 79-60 loss to BYU on Feb. 4 as they were shot out of the gym by the Cougars' barrage of three-pointers. UP experienced more success against St. Mary's as they kept the game close throughout before losing 69-61 on Jan. 14 at St. Mary's.
"Our post players really have to step up in these last games," Reveno said. "Both teams won because they controlled the inside and that freed up jumpers. We're going to continue to need Bailey and our guards to keep up the offensive production we've seen because St. Mary's and BYU aren't lacking in that department.
With new energy and early development from their young players, many making their first trip to Las Vegas, the Pilots plan to use their no-fear attitude to their advantage.
"The young guys are really stepping up right now and it shows with how much better we're playing," Mitrovic said. "We can't be afraid of the big moment or the spotlight because this is it for us."