UCI Battles Stiff Competition
The UCI women’s basketball season tipped off on Friday night at the Bren Events Center. The San Diego State Aztecs, who were ranked 29th in the Associated Press’s annual preseason rankings, topped the Anteaters by a score of 64-42.
Last season Irvine finished with an overall record of 7-23, while the Aztecs finished with a 24-8 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The disparity in the two teams’ 2008-09 records could have represented impending doom for the Anteaters; however, the Friday the 13th matchup was not a nightmare.
With SDSU leading 32-22 at half, the game seemed to be in reach as the Anteaters had kept their formidable opponents within shooting arm’s length. Assistant Coach Julia Smith was pleased with the squad’s effort.
“The team played well in the first half. We wanted to come out and compete with them early and we did that,” Smith said.
She also went on to explain that the team scored well in transition and placed themselves in good position for rebounds and scoring chances, but they didn’t get enough shots to fall. Irvine was able to grab 16 offensive rebounds, but they were unable to capitalize on their second chance opportunities, as the team made only 26 percent of their shots.
“We had chances to score,” Smith acknowledged, “Once we’re able to finish those plays, we’ll become more successful.”
After transferring from Chico State in 2008 and sitting out all of last season, junior guard Jade Smith-Williams finally saw her first regular season action as an Anteater. She cashed in with a team high 15 points in her team debut. She also dished out six assists and grabbed three rebounds in her 36 minutes of work. Smith-Williams played under current Head Coach Molly Goodenbour at Chico State before transferring to Irvine when Goodenbour became UCI’s new women’s basketball coach last season.
Freshman forward Lauren Spinazze also played in her first regular season game as an Anteater and finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds. The six-foot tall Spinazze also nailed both of her three-point attempts in the loss.
Listed at 5’5” on the roster, senior guard Ka’Jahna Johnson is eleven inches shorter than junior center Kim Barnes, who stands at 6’4”. Despite being known as a short and quick guard, Johnson found a way to grab rebounds like a center on Friday night, as she led Irvine with a team-high 7 boards. Her rebounding and two steals on defense helped make up for her shooting struggles after going 2-10 from the field.
Senior guard Mary Has is expected to return to action in December after recovering from an ACL tear that she suffered last season. Her added presence in Irvine’s backcourt is expected to add depth to a squad which featured just eight of the 13 players on the team’s roster on Friday night.
With eleven non-conference games remaining before Big West play begins for the Anteaters, the team is looking at a loss to a quality opponent like SDSU as a learning experience in their young season.
UCI 56, Colorado 61
UCI’s non-conference schedule stayed tough when they traveled to Boulder, CO to face the University of Colorado Buffaloes, a Big 12 program, on Sunday, Nov. 15.
A team that won 19 games last year, the Buffs were playing their first game of the season, while the ’Eaters were playing their second. UCI used this to their advantage, with a jumper from senior Rebecca Maessen putting the Lady Anteaters up 18-7. Smith-Williams continued her strong play dishing out assists and draining three three-pointers in the first half alone. Smith-Williams finished with 18 points, leading all scorers. At the half, it was 33-19 Anteaters.
“I was pleased with our effort [in the first half],” Goodenbour told the Colorado press. “We need to be able to execute a little bit better and do things that give ourselves the opportunity to win down the stretch.”
In the second half, Colorado junior and Southern Californian native Brittany Spears took control of the game, scoring 13 of her 18 points. The dynamic forward also pulled down 14 rebounds to notch a double-double on the night. Colorado went on a 13-0 run to start the half, making the score 33-32 on a Meagan Malcolm-Peck basket.
However, the Anteaters showed fighting spirit, with freshman Lauren Spinazze scoring six straight points to put UCI back up 44-34 with 10:47 left to go in the game.
The Anteaters were still up by 12 with 5:21 left to go in the game when the Lady Buffaloes started making their final charge. Colorado guard Whitney Houston added 9 of her 11 points in the half, boosting the Buffs while UCI’s offense skidded. The Anteaters’ free-throw shooting was a frigid 42.1 percent for the game.
“We have had a hard time coming out of second halves; that was actually something we talked about and we didn’t do it,” Goodenbour said.
A lay-up by Spears made the score 52-52 with 2:38 remaining, and then Houston sunk a dagger of a three-pointer at 0:41 to really put Irvine back on their heels. Colorado sunk their free throws to prevent UCI from tying the game, and the Buffs came away with a hard-fought 61-56 victory.