On Wednesday, March 7, at 2:30 p.m., the UC Irvine women’s basketball team will enter the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament as underdogs looking to make some noise. At 6-23, 3-11 in the Big West Conference, UCI is set to square off against Long Beach State (7-22, 4-10 conference) in the opening round.
In the season finale on Saturday, Long Beach State came from behind to defeat the Anteaters 77-63 in the Bren Events Center. Playing in her final season game, senior guard Angie Ned led UCI with 27 points off of 4-7 shooting from the three-point line. Junior forward Stephanie Duda recorded her league-leading 15th double-double with 12 points and 16 rebounds in the loss. Duda also finished the regular season leading the conference in rebounds.
Ned leads the team, averaging 15.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Duda has been dominant in the paint averaging 12.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.
At 5-feet-10-inches, Duda plays more like she is 6-feet-10-inches tall. The combination of Ned on the perimeter and Duda inside will need to continue to carry the team during the tournament if UCI wishes to advance past the first round.
Long Beach State was also able to edge the Anteaters on Jan. 27 in Long Beach by a narrow margin of 54-53.
‘For us to advance in the tournament we will need to believe that we can be successful,’ said Head Coach Molly Tuter, reflecting on her team’s chances in the upcoming tournament. ‘We will have to play as a team and outwork every opponent, not letting any doubt about our success cross our minds.’
UCI will particularly have to improve its scoring defense and team rebounding, the two categories in which it sits last in the Big West Conference.
UC Riverside will be the tournament favorite after winning the regular season title with an 18-10 record, 12-2 in conference play. UC Santa Barbara is not far behind sitting at 17-12, 10-4 conference. UCSB also boasts the conference leaders in field goal percentage and assists in juniors Jenna Green and Jessica Wilson.
For UCI to advance to face one of these powerhouses in the later rounds, they will need steady play from junior guard Annie Mai and junior guard Miranda Forry, who has scored in double figures in her last seven games.
Freshman guard Keyonna Johnson will also be called upon for composed point guard play as her minutes have increased significantly over the past several games.
Mai has been one of the more consistent players at the guard position, averaging 8.1 points per game and creating shots for her teammates. Mai leads the team with 91 assists during the season.
UCI’s second-leading scorer and All Big-West Second Team selection from one year ago, sophomore forward Kelly Cochran, has been out due to injury since November. UCI’s reserves such as sophomore guard Kirian Ishizaki and freshman guard Rebecca Maessen must supply timely scoring for the Anteaters to stay competitive.
With most critics leaving little hope for the Anteaters, Tuter still believes that her team can pull of the upset victory.
‘This will be a tough road but one that can be crossed,’ Tuter said.
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