Mikah Maly-Karros sat out another game. Senior guard Jade Smith-Williams shot 1 for 8 in the first half. Freshman forward Jacquelyn Marshall fell in early foul trouble and the Pacific Tigers shot 60 percent from the field in the first half.
But despite all of that, the Lady Anteaters overcame these obstacles and recorded a 74-66 victory over the Pacific Tigers on Feb. 17.
“We had a really good team effort,” head coach Molly Goodenbour said. “It was real balanced in terms of offensive output and defensively helping each other out.”
Reserves Tayler Champion and Kassandra McCalister stepped into the spotlight as UCI’s catalyst, Maly-Karros, missed her third straight game for undisclosed reasons. Champion recorded a careerhigh of 25 points, including five 3-pointers.
McCalister finished the game with 14 points, 12 of which came in the first half during Smith-Williams shooting woes.
“Tayler [Champion] gave us a lift with her scoring,” Goodenbour said. “Kassandra [McCalister] attacked the basket and made really good decisions.”
The Tigers took advantage of the Lady Anteaters’ small stature, scoring 32 points in the paint to UCI’s 18.
However, the ’Eaters overcame this deficit by hounding the Tigers and forcing them into 17 turnovers, which turned into 25 points for the Lady Anteaters. UCI’s reserves added a major spark to the team, scoring 44 points to Pacific’s nine bench points.
Despite only getting two points from Smith-Williams in the first half, the Anteaters entered halftime with a 40-37 lead. This three-point lead at the break was largely due to the 26 combined points from Champion and McCalister.
In the second half, both teams held the lead on two separate occasions. With a little over two minutes left in the game, the Lady Anteaters led by one point at 62-61, and it was Smith-Williams who proved to be the spark that put UCI over the top.
After a horrid display of shooting in the first half, the senior guard scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half. She kept the Tigers on their toes by slashing and cutting to the basket.
Nearly all of Smith-Williams’s second-half points came from the free-throw line, as she made nine of her 10 shots from the charity stripe.
After allowing the Tigers to shoot 60 percent from the field in the first half, UCI clamped down, holding Pacific to a 34 percent shooting. UCI’s defense also held the Tiger to two points in the last six minutes of the game.
Irvine had lost the last three games by a combined 34 points in the absence of Maly-Karros. But against the Tigers, they played as a cohesive unit on both sides of the ball, showing that the team can win without its star player.
“We are having to rely on everyone. We don’t have a player who can create her own shot at the end of the shot clock,” Goodenbour said. “So we have to work on being patient in our offense and work on setting each other up off screens.”
If the Lady Anteaters expect to make a run at the Big West tournament title, they will need to continue to play as a collective unit. They will also need to build off this victory and string some more wins together.
Before closing out the 2010-2011 season with two home games against Cal State Bakersfield and UC Riverside, the Anteaters must travel to Pacific on Feb. 24 and UC Davis on Feb. 26.