UC Irvine’s women’s basketball team kicked off the season with a closely contested game against No. 7 Concordia University during their exhibition game on Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Bren Events Center.
Even though this was a home game for UCI, at times it seemed as though the lady Anteaters were playing on the Concordia Eagles’ home court. With what looked to be an equal number of attendants there to support both teams, the members of the crowd rooting for Concordia did not hesitate to make their presence known. The Eagles found themselves down 11-22 in the first half of the game, but would respond with a 12-3 run that seemed to be fueled by the cheering of the faithful Concordia fans in attendance.
Aside from the traditional “Zot! Zot! Zot!” cheer by the UC Irvine Spirit Squad and Anteater Band, the home crowd was relatively quiet in the first half. However, they seemed to come alive in the second half, enthusiastically voicing their support as loudly as their counterparts across the stands were. One humorous moment saw the Eagles miss a shot prematurely taken as a result of the marching band falsely counting down the final seconds of the shot clock. It served as a light-hearted reprieve from what was otherwise a highly intense and emotional game.
The Anteaters seemed nervous at the start of the game, quickly finding themselves in a 2-7 hole, less than two minutes into the game. However, they maintained their composure and roared back with a 20-4 run that saw three three-pointers. The Eagles proved to be just as resilient, and fought all the way back to take the momentum and leading into halftime at 46-43.
Coming into the second half, the lady Anteaters adjusted from playing zone defense to man-to-man; tightly contesting each possession by the Eagles. They held the Eagles down to just two points while scoring 12 of their own to take a 55-48 lead with 13:18 to go.
As the game began boiling down to its final minutes, the atmosphere was notably intense, and was more reminiscent of one that you would find in a playoff game rather than in a mere exhibition. The game became more physical than it had already been. One moment bore witness to a hard collision between both team’s point guards that left both sprawled on the floor. With emotions high and the game on the line, both players were quick to get back on their feet and run back to their rotations. Irvine would manage to pull ahead in the final minutes, closing out on an 18-6 run to win 81-70.
Coach Doug Oliver commented after the game on his impressions and strategies used when going against the Eagles.
“I played all 15 kids in the first half, so we sort of got out of rhythm. But [we] give Concordia credit, in their previous couple of games they hadn’t shot the ball like that and they sort of surprised us,” Oliver said
“So in the second half we sort of tightened down to a rotation, so that we would get a feel and rhythm and have the ball in the right kid’s hands, so that’s how we got back in the ball game, narrowing down my substitutions and playing our starters a little more. I didn’t want to do that in an exhibition game but I felt that it was important to win the game and not just go through the motions,” he continued.
Senior Jennifer Tsurumoto was a key factor in the Anteater’s win, going seven out of eight from the free throw line and scoring a game high 17 points in 31 minutes of play.
“You always have to come into it knowing that there’s going to be some kind of battle, the team is not just going to lay down and roll over for you,” Tsurumoto said.
“We knew that it was going to be tough, we knew that they had some strong players, some players bigger than us, but I think that our mentality coming into the game was just to work hard, and we’re still trying to blend together as a team because we have a lot of freshmen and a lot of players.”