It was very much a rollercoaster of a year for the UC Irvine Women’s Basketball team.
They surprised many during this past week by making it into the Big West Tournament as the seventh-seed.
These Anteaters (8-21) found their confidence just in time as they upset sixth-seeded Utah State on March 9 at the Anaheim Convention Center in the first round of the Big West Tournament, 75-63.
The Anteaters also set a new free-throw record, 32, in the tournament, beating UNLV’s previous 1986 record of 31.
Even with this surge in energy and assurance, it was not enough to defeat the University of Idaho the following day, March 10. The Vandals won, 63-50.
The Anteaters struggled defensively as they seemed to move too quickly up and down the court, which caused several turnovers and steals throughout the game.
On the court, it would seem hard to believe that the third-seeded Vandals were a threat to the towering UCI Anteaters as the Vandals were much shorter in stature.
At the start of the game the Vandals took the early lead while the Anteaters struggled to put a few points on the board.
Idaho’s 5-foot-5-inch sophomore guard Leilani Mitchell and junior forward Emily Faurholt made several two-point baskets in the first minutes of the half as UCI was making more points from the free-throw line.
The Vandals led by 12 points, 16-4, before UCI’s junior forward Lauren Yadon sank a three-point basket. But UCI committed several turnovers when it held the ball in its possession.
With less than 10 minutes to go in the first, and with the Vandals still ahead with their biggest lead yet of 14 points at 25-11, UCI finally began to put it together offensively with a three-point basket by junior guard Melissa Jacob from the top right of the arc.
Another triple was made by freshman forward Haley Tull who took advantage of her open position in the left to decrease the difference to 10 points.
Senior center Ashley Biggins put in the last two points of the first half with a five-footer to end the half trailing UI, 32-11. Biggins led her team in points into halftime with seven.
At the start of the second half, UCI was plagued offensively as UI’s Mitchell continued to steal the ball away from the Anteaters.
UCI’s sophomore guard Angie Ned finally sank a three-pointer and then drove in a layup for the Anteaters. UCI gained the momentum they needed to get back into the game as Tull made three huge three-pointers from behind the arc to decrease UI’s lead to only eight points with the score at 47-39 and less than 12 minutes to go in the second half.
UCI trailed by their smallest margin of the night, five points, after Tull nailed another three-pointer from the left of the arc. This was as close as the Anteaters would get to the Vandals as consecutive three-point baskets by UI’s dangerous duo of Mitchell and Faurholt pushed the margin of difference between the two teams even further as UI went on a 9-1 run. The rest of UCI’s points came from the free-throw line until Yadon hit a triple. UI’s strong momentum and passing on the court helped them secure the win, 63-50.
UI’s Mitchell led the Vandals with a game-high 27 points followed by Faurholt who had 21.
UCI was hurt by Ned’s four personal fouls throughout the game but were helped out by Tull’s huge night, as Tull led her team in points, 15, all three-pointers, while Biggins led UCI in rebounds with a game-high 11.
Biggins didn’t feel like she played up to par today.
‘I’m not really satisfied with the way I played,’ Biggins said. ‘This is an extremely rough time for me. I did a total 360 from my freshman year when I wanted to leave and go home and now I would give anything to play with them again.’
With the Anteaters’ season over, Biggins acknowledged, ‘We had our ups and downs. But I wouldn’t be standing here without each and every one of [my teammates].’
Even with the loss, UCI ended the season by winning four of their last five games including an incredible win the day before against Utah State.
‘I thought it was a pretty darn good [game],’ said UCI Interim Head Coach Molly Tuter. ‘Every one [of the Anteaters] should be proud of their performance. I’m proud of each and every one of them.’
Tuter expressed how her team had every reason in the world to quit, but didn’t and held on to finish an amazing season.
When asked about Biggins, who was the only senior to finish the season without an injury and who contributed greatly to the team’s accomplishments this year, Tuter got choked up as she struggled to find the right words.
‘[Biggins has a] great work ethic, she’s overachieved academically, a great team leader, everybody’s favorite person on the team,’ Tuter said.
UI Head Coach Mike Divilbiss believed UCI played with more confidence that day.
‘[UCI] is a much different team than records say, a high-level team,’ Divilbiss said.
Yadon believes the team has moved in a positive direction.
‘Our mentality is different, all really positive, and our outlook [is] really good,’ Yadon said. Now UCI will ‘get ready for next season to come around.’