Heading into San Diego for the Monday night opener, DU men’s basketball had to keep senior guard Bryce Pope and junior forward Francis Nwaokorie under wraps. Unfortunately, the UCSD dynamic duo scored 49 points in the game as DU faded down the stretch, falling 95-87. Ultimately, it was the Denver defense that failed in the final 20 minutes of the game as the Tritons ran past the Pioneers.
The first half was the Touko Tainamo show as DU’s junior forward scored 15 points and hauled down 10 rebounds. Utah transfer Jaxson Brenchley scored DU’s first five points as both teams showed opening night jitters. Five turnovers in the first eight minutes by Denver gave the Tritons a five-point lead, 17-12. A pair of Touko Tainamo layups pulled the teams even, 19-19, with 9:18 remaining. Later in the half, forward Pedro Lopez Sanvicente made a layup to give DU the lead, 30-28, at 4:19. A Tommy Bruner layup put DU up by five points at 3:28 but UCSD came clawing back. In the final minute, Tommy Bruner canned a three-point make to put the Pioneers up by three. With time running out, Bryce Pope countered with a layup, 41-40, leaving DU with the narrow lead at break. In addition to Tainamo’s excellent first half, Tommy Bruner flashed with a strong final 10 minutes, finishing with 9 points. UCSD had three players with 10 points – J’Raan Brooks, Francis Nwaokorie, and Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones.
The second half was not nearly as kind to Denver.
The Pioneers came out flat-footed and Pope and Hayden Gray gave UCSD a quick nine-point lead in the opening three minutes of the half, 50-41. DU chipped away, capped by a Isaiah Addo-Ankrah layup, to draw within 5 points with 15 minutes to go. The Tritons used five blocks and three steals to build another nine-point edge at 13:50. An Addo-Ankra three-point make capped a DU scoring run to pull within four, 64-60, at 11:20. Denver suffered a major loss when freshman big-man Isaiah Carr fouled out (9:11) to end a rough first night (4 points, 5 rebounds) in the pivot for the Pioneers. At 7:35, a dunk by UCSD’s Francis Nwaokorie put DU down by double digits, 78-68. Denver nibbled the margin down to nine again at 4:26 but could not catch the red-hot shooting Tritons (59% shooting in the second half). A pair of Touko Tainamo free throws pulled Denver within six points with 30 seconds left but it was too little, too late for DU. Final score, 95-87 UCSD.
Touko Tainamo had an outstanding game for DU with 31 points and 18 rebounds. Tommy Bruner had 23 points on atypical 32% shooting. Freshman DeAndre Craig had a strong first DI outing with 11 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds while fouling out. Denver held a 12 rebound edge on the night but was outshot from the field 53.8% vs 39.4%. Denver must play better team defense and improve their shooting effectiveness this Thursday when they face Cal Poly at 7:00 pm MT at Hamilton Gym.