Lady Anteaters’ First Big West Win
In front of a season high crowd of 1,343 in attendance, senior guard and Captain Jennifer Tsurumoto led UC Irvine to a 90-78 victory over UC Riverside scoring a career-high 31 points in the process.
With 12 of their first 15 games being on the road, Saturday marked only the fourth home game played by the lady Anteaters this season. UC Irvine improved to an overall record of 8-8 and maintained a spotless record of 4-0 on their home floor. Cal Poly Pomona is the only other team in the Big West to hold the distinction of remaining undefeated at home.
Despite being at a significant size disadvantage, the Anteaters were not afraid to play hard physical defense, as they made sure to contest every possession and fight for every loose ball. Their unrelenting pressure would pay off as they converted 25 points off of 22 forced turnovers from Riverside, while only turning the ball over 11 times.
UC Irvine controlled the pace of the game early on, racing ahead to a 9-4 lead a little less than three minutes into the game. Riverside reacted by attempting to force more points in the paint, resulting in a 6-0 run capped off by a jumper from sophomore guard Annelise Ito with 15:16 remaining in the half. That marked the first and only time that the Highlanders would lead throughout in the course of the game, as the Anteaters never trailed again after responding with an 11-0 run of their own. At halftime, Irvine led 46-39.
“We had some match up issues early, but we changed defenses, started playing zone, and played some man to mix it up and I think that kept them off balance and gave us energy,” Head Coach Doug Oliver said.
The two teams struggled offensively going into the second half, with no field goals being made until 16:33 left in the game by senior forward Camille Buckley, who went to score 16 points in Irvine’s winning effort. Looking sluggish, Riverside would find themselves down 67-45 with 11:11 remaining.
As the minutes began winding down, Riverside began playing with a newfound sense of urgency as they tried to make up the large deficit. Refusing to back down, the Anteaters matched the Highlanders’ intensity, resulting in several hard-hitting collisions between the opposing teams.
“Even when we are up by 20, we tend to relax, and let the other team back in. And I just looked at [my team], and I told them we are not losing this game right now, we need to keep pushing,” Tsurumoto said. “That’s pretty much what our motto is, we yell at each other a lot to keep pushing, even when we’re up by 20. Might as well be up by 50 if you can.”
In spite of the increased physicality, neither team seemed to take it personally as Riverside’s Crain lent a helping hand to Tsurumoto after a particularly hard fall.
On the topic of her stellar shooting performance, Tsuromoto revealed that her mindset isn’t to go out there and carry the team to victory, but to do what’s best for the team.
“I look at it more as if I see an advantage against my opponent, then I’m going to take it. I trust my team, if you expect the game to be put on your back, then you’re just looking out for yourself, and you’re not really expecting the same amount of work from everyone else on the court. When you trust everyone else on the court, and they can score just as much as you can, then it opens you up too, because you’re willing to make that extra pass.”
The Lady Anteaters hope to carry over their great play to their next conference game at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday night.