Maybe the #FightForRiverside is a fairer tussle – Daily Breeze

RIVERSIDE – Officially, UC Riverside and California Baptist call their budding rivalry the “Crosstown Showdown.” Unofficially, at least in This Space, it has been the #FightForRiverside, and for most of the three-plus seasons that the programs have been Division I peers CBU has had the upper hand in most metrics, including the one that counts the most, men’s basketball.

Sunday evening, UCR struck back. CBU had pretty well had its way in the 2018 and ’19 meetings – the teams didn’t play last year – but this time the Highlanders broke through at home with a 70-54 victory that, on-court results aside, demonstrated the potential power of this relationship between the Inland Empire’s two Division I universities.

Consider: CBU’s engaged fan base showed up early and filled more than half of the bench side bleachers in UCR’s Student Recreation Center. The home fans were slower to fill the seats, and the listed attendance was a smallish 884, but by mid-game the back-and-forth noise provided the type of big game atmosphere this game deserves.

Maybe next time they play at UCR, there will be enough demand that they can open the balcony.

“I’ve played in some really hostile environments, and it was really great to see the fan support that they got coming here,” UCR’s J.P. Moorman said. “It makes it real interesting when the opposing team can bring a nice, loyal fan base, because it gets to be a hostile environment on both sides for them and for us. You know, usually it’s not like that, the opposing team coming in with such a big fan base. So that was really impressive by them.”

Some perspective is in order here. Moorman is a senior transfer from Temple. In other words, he’s played in Philadelphia’s intercity rivalries, in historic arenas with rabid fans and plenty of civic pride as well as on-court success at stake. Those are tough standards to live up to.

“I played in the craziest rivalries … Going to play at (Villanova), playing at Missouri, playing in the Barclays (Center), Madison Square Garden,” he said. “We played everywhere around the country, but the one thing that’s constant, it doesn’t matter what the name on the jersey is. And I think that’s kind of the approach we take here at UCR. Whoever’s out there, we just got to go out there and compete and lay it all on the line.”

The Highlanders are now 6-4, with victories on the road over Arizona State – on Moorman’s three-quarter court buzzer-beater – and UTEP and a major scare thrown into Oregon at Eugene. But this neighborhood tussle might have been a rite of passage. In the teams’ two previous Division I meetings, CBU had its way and, coach Mike Magpayo said, bullied UCR from the start. This time, even with an 11-day layoff for finals that could have left the players logy at the start, UCR instead set its own preferred tone from the outset against the Lancers (now 8-2).

“Everything we talked about in preparation was from the tip to play with force,” Magpayo said. “We used the word force in about 20 different bullet points in our keys today. So I was trying to get them to understand it was like whoever grabs the energy of the gym in the first two or three minutes is going to have a really good chance to win the game.”

As a December non-conference game, this doesn’t have quite the same juice as a conference game. But there is something tangible at stake.

UCR, which has been Division I for 21 seasons, is the state school with a tight budget and what sometimes has seemed a lackadaisical attitude toward athletics, and in fact it wasn’t until last May that the entire athletic program got a stay of execution from the possibility it might be terminated in total.

CBU is the private, faith-based school with boundless ambition and resources, a gleaming 5,050-seat arena and an athletic product that has been prioritized and has gotten the attention of many of the community’s stakeholders, be they potential donors or potential advertisers. The difference between the home game environment at each school is stark, but each is doing the best it can with what it has.

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