There is a changing of the guard in Anteater basketball.
The UC Irvine Women’s Basketball team, under the leadership of seniors Courtney Ferguson and Ashley Biggins, expects to improve upon last season’s 6-20 record.
And they plan to do it with a plethora of new guards to help create an up-tempo game.
Mark Adams, who enters his eighth season as the head coach for the women, will lead a team that finished second in the Big West in scoring defense last season, holding opponents to 62.8 points per game, yet was last place in scoring.
So far this season, the Anteaters are 0-1. They lost to Love and Basketball 65-55 in an exhibition game, and then to San Jose State 54-52 on Nov. 23. This year’s squad looks to their improved transition game as a way to score more points.
According to Biggins, the players will be doing ‘more of a fast-paced transition [offense] and just run up the court.’
‘Last year it was more structured and we had to run a lot of plays,’ Biggins said. ‘The one thing we lacked was a point guard. We couldn’t really run up the ball much.’
The lack of a point guard will not be a problem for this year’s squad, as six of the seven newcomers are guards.
Three of the freshmen hail from Texas. Haley Tull is from Cleburne, and twins Kalee and Kristee Davidson are from Fort Worth. California natives Miranda Forry, Annie Mai and Katie Curtis round out the freshman class.
Melissa Jacob, who transferred from Midland College, finished with eight points, six rebounds and three assists in the loss to San Jose State.
Among the new faces, Tull is the only one not listed as a guard. Ferguson is excited about the depth at the position this year.
‘They’re picking up things really quickly,’ said Ferguson of the new squad. ‘You just have to tell them one or two things. But they’re stepping right in.’
Ferguson has already shown that she can lead this team by example. Against San Jose State, she played 36 minutes, scoring 15 points and leading the team with four assists.
With seven newcomers, one might wonder whether the lack of experience will hurt UCI. The seniors, however, do not see this as a disadvantage.
‘They’re doing an amazing job,’ Biggins said of the freshmen. ‘Everybody’s here for the right reasons. They knew what they were getting into and they’re very eager to learn.’
The returning players from last year’s team have a total of only 95 career starts between them. Besides Biggins, the only other returnees who play in the center position are juniors Lauren Yadon and Joanna Usher.
‘In practice and in games we try to be very supportive of one another,’ Biggins remarked. ‘We want to make sure that we get better.’
Biggins was particularly complimentary about Yadon, who had a double-double tuesday night, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
‘[Yadon] has already shown these past two games that she’s here and she’s ready to play,’ raved Biggins.
Rounding out the roster of returning players are sophomores Katie Urban, Stephanie Duda and Angie Ned.
‘[Ned] has just been killing us in practice,’ said Biggins.
The influx of new players does not seem to have hindered either the team bonding or the team chemistry.
‘I think our team chemistry has actually improved,’ Biggins commented. ‘It will take our team a lot further than people think because you know how people play. When the team can get along so well off the court, you can see it transfer onto the court.’
The third senior on the team, forward Katie Sturgeon, reinjured her knee in the preseason and will not be able to play for the rest of the year. Her surgery is scheduled for Dec. 28, and rehab is expected to take one to one-and-a-half years.
‘The only thing I can do is encourage [my teammates] and give them advice,’ Sturgeon said.
UCI expects tough competition from perennial Big West powerhouses UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State and Idaho.
All three were picked to finish in the top three by the coaches and the media polls. UCI was predicted to finish eighth.
‘Obviously, we know we’re going to do a lot better than [that],’ said Ferguson. ‘I’m kind of glad we didn’t get ranked high so we can just sneak up on people. No pressure.’
Biggins added, ‘[The other teams] have no idea how much we’ve improved, so every game we’re going to have to come out and surprise them and let them know they’re not going to walk all over us.’
The players also believe that their physical training has gotten better from last year.
‘I know [Biggins] and everybody else worked really hard this summer to get in great shape,’ Ferguson said. ‘That brings a huge advantage to your game.’
Biggins added, ‘When [Ferguson] and I first got here as freshmen, we had a bad season. The following year was [one of our best], but last year wasn’t so good. Now we are just like, ‘Screw this, we want to go out on a good note. We know what it takes to be good. Nobody can stop us now.