The stage was set on Senior Night, the final home game of the season, for senior guard Melissa Jacob. However, Cinderella’s glass slipper was not meant to fit her or the Anteaters on this particular night.
The UC Irvine Women’s Basketball team was down 66-65 with less then seven seconds remaining when Jacobs was fouled driving in the lane. After a short timeout, Jacobs missed both of her free-throw attempts as the ball clanked off the back of the rim. When Cal State Long Beach’s Mary Has made only one of out two free throws to give the 49ers a slim two-point lead, Jacobs had a shot at redemption. Her running three-pointer from about 30 feet away went in and out of the basket as the final buzzer sounded, giving Long Beach State a 67-65 victory over the Anteaters Saturday afternoon at the Bren Events Center.
‘I thought that shot was going in when it left my hands,’ Jacobs said. ‘It would have been huge for us because it would have locked up an automatic third seed in the Big West tournament.’
After getting destroyed in their first match up against Long Beach State 79-50, the Anteaters (9-18, 7-7 Big West) displayed an innate ability to come back from large deficits and battle with the top seed in the conference. The Anteaters finally tied the 49ers at 63 with less than two minutes left in the game when sophomore forward Stephanie Duda converted one out of her two free-throw attempts. Yet, Long Beach State’s Crystal McCutcheon made the team’s last four field goals, including the eventual game-winning jumper with 1:12 left in the game. McCutcheon finished the game with a team-high 15 points.
‘We have played much better in the second half of the season than the first half,’ said UCI Head Coach Molly Tuter. ‘The girls are playing with more confidence and just working a lot harder.’
The Anteaters’ hard work failed to yield any early results against Long Beach State. While they took 20 more shots than their opponents, the Anteaters allowed the 49ers to shoot 63 percent from the field in the first half as they trailed 45-40 at halftime.
The Anteaters were able to put together a late rally in the second half, sparked by a heated altercation between freshman forward Kelly Cochran and Long Beach State’s Jayme Connors.
Cochran and Connors battled for a loose ball which resulted in both players knocking the other onto the floor.
‘I don’t like her much,’ Cochran said after the game.
The second half rally put together by the Anteaters displayed a symbolic passing of the torch between UCI’s present and its talented up-and-coming future. Senior Melissa Jacob tried to single handily lead the Anteaters back from a late nine point deficit, while Cochran and Duda put up their usual dominant performances on both sides of the court.
Jacobs saved her best for last as she scored all six of her points in the final eight minutes of the half. Cochran added another double-double to her resume as she scored 15 points and added 12 rebounds, while Duda scored 10 points to go along with seven boards.
The Anteaters were also shorthanded as they played catch-up against Long Beach (18-9, 10-4) in the second half. Junior guard Angie Ned, the team’s leading scorer, was plagued with foul trouble throughout the game and eventually fouled out in the final two minutes. She finished with 10 points.
‘Anytime your best all around player fouls out its going to be detrimental to your team’s overall success,’ Tuter said. ‘Yet, we had every opportunity to win the game tonight, and we should have.’
The final home game of the season was also very emotional for many of the team’s players and seniors. Holding back tears, many of the coaches and players displayed gratitude and appreciation for the effort and guidance that characterized the four seniors on the team.
‘I just want to say thank you very much for everything the seniors have given to the program,’ Tuter said. ‘Always remember that I will miss you all very much.’
The Anteaters will now head into the first round of the Big West Tournament on Wednesday around 2 p.m. at the Anaheim Convention Center. They are the No. 6 seed and will face off against No. 7 Cal State Northridge.