By Marvin Luu
After Hawai’i had muscled in 40 points in the paint and secured 52 rebounds, it was evident that the Rainbow Wahine’s (10-8, 3-2) physicality was an adversary that the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (3-16, 0-5) simply could not overcome. Without an answer for Hawai’i sophomore center Megan Huff, who racked up a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, the ‘Eaters were handed their 11th straight loss on the season Thursday night, 83-65. UCI’s 11 game skid marks the second longest losing streak in the program’s history with the record drought currently set at 13 from the 2008-2009 campaign.
Despite being undersized, UCI’s frontcourt still managed to battle consistently throughout the game. Junior forward Shereen Sutherland seemed unfazed by Hawai’i’s size, leading the ‘Eaters with 15 points and five rebounds. Sutherland has reemerged as a huge contributor to the ‘Eaters offense, leading the team with double digit scoring in the past two contests after posting just a single point at UC Davis a week earlier.
“I know that they’re strong so I just have to be tough and solid with my post moves,” Sutherland said of Hawai’i’s physicality. “[Their physicality] doesn’t effect me because, coming from my old school, I’m used to playing taller people and stronger people…so for me personally, I have no problem playing with stronger people.”
Coming off the bench, freshman Tayla Jackson joined Sutherland with five boards and played a big part in a run that opened the second quarter and had cut the lead down to nine. Jackson, along with junior guard Irene Chavez, finished the game with nine points apiece.
Defensively, junior forward Mokun Fajemisin embraced her role as the ‘Eaters’ primary rim protector, swatting away two baskets and proving why she is currently leading all players in the Big West in blocks.
“I haven’t seen any drops in their heads or anyone taking any deep breaths and really that’s hard to do,” head coach Doug Oliver said of the team’s mentality in the last three contests.
Shooting at 41.8 percent, the ‘Eaters had kept pace with Hawai’i during some significant spurts of the game—that is until déjà vu set in and scoreless runs began to ice UCI towards the end of the first period and the majority of the fourth.
“It’s the same story over and over,” coach Oliver said. “We [have] talked about our offensive woes …we sustain [our] effort [and] make our runs but then we have lulls and they get separation and when you’re down [by] seven, eight, ten, [or] 12…then we can’t close the gap.”
From the opening tip, Hawai’i had recognized their size advantage and wasted no time in exploiting the ‘Eaters’ weakness. In the first period, Rainbow Wahine senior center Kalei Adolpho went for a flawless seven points off of 3-3 shooting from the floor.
The ‘Eaters rallied behind Sutherland who went right back at Hawaii and matched Adolpho with seven baskets of her own. With 7:27 remaining in the period, Sutherland stretched her range and drained a triple to give the ‘Eaters a four point advantage.
“Shereen contributed offensively [but] she needs help tonight” coach Oliver said. “We have different people go off at different times. We need [Shereen] getting 15, someone else getting 11…for us to have a chance.”
Despite an early push by the Sutherland, UCI’s lead quickly diminished when Hawai’i went on an 18-4 run to close the quarter out, drawing the score up to 29-15.
Down by 14, the ‘Eaters went for an aggressive push that catapulted off a three-point basket from Chavez and a fast break lay-in from Jackson. UCI had actually won the second half 18-16, but still trialed by 12 heading into halftime.
“Unfortunately, we missed many easy shots or open shots,” coach Oliver said. “We miss 10 open lay-ins, not all uncontested, but five of the ten were…but we’ve got to make those to be competitive.”
The Rainbow Wahine used their rebounding prowess in the second half. Of the 21 rebounds that Hawai’i had secured, eight came offensively and had successfully translated into 18-second chance points.
Unsurprisingly, Hawaii—who currently leads the Big West in rebounding— controlled the glass by swallowing up 25 more boards than the ‘Eaters. Despite the dent that the ‘Eaters managed to put on Hawai’i’s lead, the Rainbow Wahine had outmatched UCI to close out the game, 83-65.
“They wear you down,” coach Oliver said. “It’s a bad matchup for us physically and yet I told [the team] in the locker room that I was proud of their effort. They didn’t back down and they kept pushing the ball at them and banging into them the best we could.”
The ‘Eaters will be back on the road Saturday to face Cal State Fullerton for a 6pm matchup.
“We’ve been taking baby steps instead of strides which sucks but we see that we’re improving and trying to capitalize on it…it’s just for us, its little steps.” Sutherland said.