Blaine Ohigashi

The wheels touch down Wednesday night around 8:30 PM at LAX and the Monmouth University Basketball team walks out into cool Los Angeles. We have dinner in the Marriott in Manhattan Beach, our headquarters for the next six days, and briefly go over UCLA personnel so that we can continuously have these guys on our minds. As preseason practices come to an end and the season opener rounds the corner, there is an emphatic buzz within our team.

On Thursday we brush off the rust from the 6-hour flight from Newark with a little workout in the UCLA practice gym, which is in the heart of campus. Following the workout, the bus takes us to beautiful Venice Beach where we explore a place that we have only seen in movies up until this point. We watch skaters shred in the famous Venice Skate Park and body builders lift at the distinguished Muscle Beach. If you ask any player at this point, each of them would have said that they are moving to California following graduation from Monmouth, myself included.

On Friday afternoon, Coach Rice is encouraging everyone to get to their spots and knock down some shots during shootaround in the historic Pauley Pavilion, as we prepare for our first of two games on our West Coast trip. In my third year at Monmouth, I like to look back on all the amazing trips I’ve been fortunate to be a part of as I watch newcomers like Micah Seaborn have an amazing time in the City of Angels. Although it is a trip of a lifetime, he of all people knows that it is a business trip first. Beads of sweat drip off his face onto the wood panels of the Nell and John Wooden Court, as Seaborn is dialed in, even 7 hours before tip.

Monmouth 84, UCLA 81 (OT)

When the final buzzer sounds in Pauley Pavilion, our bench clears and we run onto the court and celebrate at mid court. Monmouth fans scream at the top of their lungs. A surreal feeling overcomes each of us as we look up at the screen and see that we just beat UCLA in their gym, a team that only lost one home game the previous season. A wild scene in the locker room ensues after one of the biggest wins in Monmouth basketball history.

Saturday night we embark on a trip to the Rose Bowl to watch the UCLA football team take on Washington State. The stadium and the area around it is packed with Bruins fans, and we were walking through the madness wearing our Monmouth gear. The fans are very nice and hospitable, and talk hoops with us for a while before the game. They respect our tenacity and how we play together and even tell us to enjoy the win, because we deserve it. Whether we deserve it or not, we know hard work and consistency is what helped us win that game. However, we know a tough USC team awaits, and we will have a battle in the Galen Center.

Everyone has good energy on Sunday at our practice in the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility. That live practice was a step in the right direction for Monday-Friday wasn’t our best defensive performance, but our perseverance helped make that win a possibility. We’re confident that we will play better offensively and defensively on Monday night at USC.

Collin Stewart walks into the Galen Center at the University of Southern California on Monday around 11:30am. As he gets loose for shootaround, he gets acclimated to the baskets so he can be ready come tip off. Friday night against UCLA, Stewart had 19 points on 5-13 shooting, and 3-8 from 3.

7 hours before tip off, game faces are already on and will be on the rest of the day, as we all get our minds right for what tonight has in store. During shootaround, Austin Tilghman makes an in-and-out cross over to get into the lane and kicks it to Pierre Sarr who knocks down the 3. For Sarr, he’s excited to prove what he can do. After a long preseason dealing with NCAA issues, Sarr finally was clear and was flown to the Golden State to join the team for the Monday night showdown.

USC 101, Monmouth 90

After a tough loss at USC, we walk into the locker room and sit in silence. Everyone knows what we have to do to be great, and it will come after a loss that will resonate. We will use this to motivate us to work harder and become closer as the season continues to roll on.

Story by Greg Noack