A look at the upcoming season
The UC Irvine women’s basketball team took the floor last Friday in preparation for its first exhibition game on Tuesday by beginning with some light warm-up drills before engaging in a friendly, but high-intensity five-on-five scrimmage. The practice was highlighted by a 40-foot half-court buzzer-beating shot banked home by senior forward Lauren Spinazze, which gave her team a narrow two-point victory and ignited cheers and laughter from her teammates and coaches. Even with the high competiveness, the team remained loose and upbeat, smiling and making friendly jokes whenever the time allowed. It’s all part of a new culture new head coach, Doug Oliver, is trying to develop for this team after a disappointing finish to last year’s season that ended with former head coach Molly Goodenbour’s departure.
Oliver takes the helm of the program after serving as an assistant under Goodenbour last season. With nearly 40 years of coaching experience, Oliver will look for improvements on a team that last year finished third in the Big West with a 9-7 conference record. Despite the record, Oliver believes this team has the potential to repeat that success if they can stay healthy. Fortunately for the Anteaters, the bright spot comes in their returning core. The program returns eight players in 2013, including five seniors and a couple starters from last year, including Big West All-Freshman Methlyn Onogomuho and senior guard Anete Klinstone.
The Anteaters will be without two of their offensive leaders from last year, including All-Big West first-team player Kassandra McCalister, who not only led the team in scoring and assists, but as Coach Oliver explains, was willing to take the tough shots at crucial times in the game. The other is All-Big West honorable mention Jacquelyn Marshall, who perhaps was the Anteaters’ biggest shooting threat on the perimeter. Another significant loss for the Anteaters (now “America’s Next Top Model” star) is vocal leader Kiara Belen. The ’Eaters will have a tough time replacing the intangible things they brought to the team. Coach Oliver, however, hopes some of his older players will step up and fill the void.
Starting with the backcourt, look for third-year guard Kelly Meggs to have a big role in the offense. Meggs averaged 4.4 points last season, but really came on towards the end of the season, including a 26-point performance versus UC Riverside in the season finale. I expect her to be the starting point guard to open the season.
Another player to watch for is transfer-guard Jennifer Tsurumoto. The 5–foot-6-inch tall sophomore point guard out of Santa Rosa College gives the Anteaters something that they have been lacking, and that is a true point guard who can get others involved. She is expected to get a good amount of minutes while Anete Klinstone recovers from injury. Don’t be surprised if you see Coach Oliver go to a smaller lineup and call on these two to handle the backcourt.
At the shooting guard position, I expect senior P.J. Hanson to get the nod as a starter. P.J. has the athletic ability and the size to be a great scorer for the Anteaters, but only time will tell if she can step up and help fill that role. On the opposite wing, the aforementioned Onogomuho will return to her starting role.
Last year “Met” finished the season as the Big West leader in offensive rebounds and led the Anteaters in rebounds per game. She does an excellent job crashing the boards from the weak side and often times gives the Anteaters much needed multiple possessions on offense.
Some other players to look for at these positions are seniors Jazmyne White and Spinazze. White, a three-year starter, is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season but, once healthy, is capable of putting up solid numbers offensively. Spinazze is the team’s wild card. The 6-foot forward has excellent range from the perimeter and can help spread the floor on offense from both wings. She also is capable of playing the front court in case Coach Oliver decides to go with a smaller lineup.
The Anteaters front court is actually one of their strongest in recent years. It is one of things Coach Oliver is excited to capitalize on. Junior forward Jasmine Bernard returns for the Anteaters after putting up some decent numbers last year. She will be a starter opening night. Physically, Bernard has the tools to be a dominant player on both sides of the court. We saw flashes of that dominance in a couple games last season, including a 21-point game against Portland State. I see her as the team’s x-factor. If she is able to consistently set the tone for the Anteaters in the interior, UCI’s chances of winning will be much higher.
At the center position, I’m looking at newcomer Camille Buckley to take control of this role. The 6-foot-1-inch tall sophomore transfer from Loyola Marymount not only excels as a rebounder but can also put up some points. She plays with a lot of energy and isn’t afraid to be physical. As Coach Oliver described to me, Buckley is “as good a post player as I’ve seen in women’s basketball.”
Another player that will get significant time in the front court is senior Cheyenne Cathey. Last year Cathey appeared in 27 games including six starts. Oliver would love to use Cathey in high-low situations in the post. She gives the Anteaters more versatility and allows Coach Oliver to utilize a smaller lineup.
With that said, the Anteaters were picked to finish ninth in the Big West in the preseason media poll. Anteaters are used to adversity. Last year, they were picked sixth. They will have a lot to prove this season, but don’t expect them to go out without a fight.
“We’re going to lose games,” says Oliver, “but I want them to do it by playing hard, keeping their head up, and waking up the next morning ready to go back to work.”