By Marvin Luu
Looks of exasperation and slumped shoulders hung over the ‘Eaters on Saturday evening at the Bren Events Center as Cal Poly senior guard Lisa Sanchez dribbled out the clock to secure a 72-54 victory, handing the UCI women’s basketball team their eighth consecutive loss of the season. As the Mustangs improve to 8-7 overall and 1-1 in conference, UCI drops to 3-13, 0-2 in conference play.
No one on the floor expressed more frustration than senior guard Raelyn Cheung-Sutton who, shoulders sagged. clasped her hands together and swung them around before checking out of the game with a little over a minute to spare in the contest. Despite putting up 14 points on 5-11 shooting and dishing out five dimes, UCI could not find the basket in the third quarter which opened with the ‘Eaters trailing by one, 33-32, and closed with the Mustangs creating a 12-point cushion, 54-42, going into the fourth. From the sidelines, head coach Doug Oliver also shared Cheung-Sutton’s frustrations, watching his team shoot 28.1 percent from the floor.
“[In terms of] shooting percentage, we [weren’t] making any shots,” said Oliver. “We shot 25 percent in the second half, and that takes its toll on you. I thought with us being in the game in the first half, that we would have some energy and excitement, [but] we drained our energy and excitement in the game with poor shooting.”
UCI had broken their backs for the entirety of the first half, breaking out on a 10-2 run that began with a sifting lay-in by Cheung-Sutton followed by a mid-range jumper from junior forward McKenzie Piper. Junior forward Mokun Fajemisin battled in the paint and made a pair of free throws followed by a smooth jumper to keep the ‘Eaters rolling. Fajemisin would go on to finish the game with eight points and seven rebounds.
Although the Mustangs did answer with a few baskets of their own, UCI responded with aggression. Having suffered seven straight losses, the ‘Eaters did not let up, staying poised and continuing to trade baskets with the Mustangs, inhibiting them from earning a lead over four. When Mustang sophomore guard Gabby Grupalo hit a jumper at the 5:42 minute mark, sophomore forward Paulina Santana answered with a basket of her own; when a Mustang forward converted both buckets from the charity stripe, sophomore forward Brittany Glassow drew a foul and knocked down two of her own.
“The first half was fun for us because we were competitive and in the ball game, but we can’t continue to miss good shots,” said Oliver. “When you do, it results in what happened to us in the second half.”
In fact, it was in the second half where Cal Poly stifled UCI’s offense, forcing players to rely on taking contested jump shots. Without much ball movement, the ‘Eaters stagnanted and relied on too much one-on-one basketball.
“We are not one-on-one types of players,” said Oliver. “…[but] sometimes there’s one, sometimes there’s two players on the floor that, when they catch [the ball], they massage the ball and everything slows down and everybody has to stop and wait.”
When the ‘Eaters went cold, Cal Poly would shoot their way back into it, falling behind Grupalo’s 25 points, which allowed the Mustangs to overtake the lead a little over two minutes into the third. With 3:26 left in the period, Grupalo drained two of her three triples, pushing the lead to four, 46-42, which would soon blossom into 11 before the start of the final period.
As basket after basket grazed the rims for UCI, the crowd grew silent in the stands while spirits began to flag on the court in recognition of an eighth straight loss approaching.
“We have so much slippage in a game as compared to what we do in practice,” said Oliver. “Even the players get excited and we know it…we have two, three good practices in a row and we can’t back it up with good play, so I hope it happens soon.”
The ‘Eaters will have a few days to recuperate before heading back on the road again to face UC Davis on Jan. 14.