By Marvin Luu
After dropping their first two conference games against Long Beach State (57-40) and UC Riverside (71-58), the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (3-15, 0-3) had no answer for an aggressive Cal State Fullerton ball club (8-7, 2-0) that handed the Anteaters their third straight loss at the Bren Events Center on Thursday night, 62-51.
In the loss, UCI sophomore guard Irene Chavez managed to score a game and career-high 22 points on 8-11 shooting off the bench, while sophomore forward Mokun Fajemisin grabbed 10 boards to lead all in the respectable category. Freshman forward Chloe Kellum also posted a career-high 9 points on 4-6 shooting, all of which came during the second half.
The first half of the game began quite slowly for the ‘Eaters as the team went scoreless for nearly six minutes before Chavez scored a three to snap the cold streak. Shooting only 18.5 percent from the field by the end of the half, the ‘Eaters missed plenty of good looks in the paint and on transitions, baskets that UCI coach Doug Oliver believes the team needs be able to make.
“[During the] start of the ball game we missed seven straight shots and they gave us opportunities on two to nothing [fast-breaks],” coach Oliver said. “When we miss good shots it puts way too much pressure on our defense.”
While the Anteater’s shooting woes continued, the Titans capitalized by putting up 31 points off of 12-28 shooting. Titans senior guard Miles Chante, who is now averaging 18.9 points per game, struggled from the field but still managed to close the half with nine points. UCI also failed to clean the glass, allowing the Titans to grab five offensive boards in the half with a total of 14 for the game. By the end of the first period, the Anteaters were down by 19, 31-12.
The second half proved to be a completely different story for the ‘Eaters as they came out much more energized and focused. Kellum and junior guard, Raelyn Cheung-Sutton both found the hot hand and contributed two straight baskets before the Titans answered back at the 18:49 mark. The pace of the ball game picked up when both teams found themselves trading basket after basket. Chavez continued her hot shooting by nailing a jumper to cut the lead to 15 with 16:59 left to go. The basket marked the second straight game in which Chavez has scored in double digits.
“I am just trying to bring energy off the bench and trying to keep my teammates positive,” Chavez said. “When everyone is positive we play better as shots are going in.”
Chavez would go on to score 14 of her 22 points in the half, while Kellum and Cheung-Sutton chimed in with a combined 17 points, five assists, and seven rebounds to help the ‘Eaters improve to 65.2 percent shooting in the second half alone and 40 percent for the game.
Despite outscoring the Titans in the second half, 39-31, UCI had dug a hole early on in the game that proved too steep to recover from, as Fullerton would go on to ride out the final minutes of the game with the ball in their hands. The Anteaters are looking to find some consistency in the way in which they may continue to build on the successful lapses that they have gone through during this game.
“We played good basketball for 20 minutes and (this game) is a lesson learned for all of us,” coach Oliver said.
The ‘Eaters will be back at the Bren Events Center next Thursday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. when they face Cal State Northridge in their fourth game of the conference.