By Marvin Luu
In their final regular season game as Anteaters at the Bren Events Center, senior guard Raelyn Cheung-Sutton and senior forward Mokun Fajemisin did everything they possibly could for the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (4-26, 1-15) Saturday in a 76-70 loss over UC Davis (17-12, 10-6).
Cheung-Sutton racked up a double-double and led UCI with 17 points and 12 dimes, tying her career-high in assists and topping everyone in the Big West Conference in the respective category this year. The San Francisco native also went a perfect 8-8 from the line to draw out her consecutive free throw streak to a flawless 40-40 for the season.
Fajemisin fought through foul trouble to secure a team-best nine boards to go along with 16 points and also went a perfect 6-6 from the line. Defensively, Fajemsin denied two baskets, her season average that has led all players in conference.
Head coach Doug Oliver, who will retire after this year and has also coached his final regular season game of his career, had nothing but praise for his graduating players.
“You can’t ask anymore from the two seniors,” said Oliver. “Tonight on senior night … that’s the effort that those two have put forth all year, so I think highly of those two as young people and competitors.”
During the last two games, the Anteaters had picked up their pace offensively and had asserted their aggressiveness by drawing fouls and getting to the charity stripe. More importantly, the team had been converting their baskets and making the most out of their opportunities from the line, shooting 90.9 percent against UC Riverside Thursday and 87.5 percent Saturday.
UCI also played past their offensive woes, buckling down defensively when baskets were not falling. The Anteaters had forced 21 turnovers from the Aggies and picked off the ball on 11 occasions.
“All year we struggled to play hard, so we really wanted to make it an effort to come out [and] play hard and give ourselves the best opportunity to win,” said Fajemisin.
UC Davis began the game poised to spoil UCI’s senior night. Aggies forward Alyson Doherty, who also played in her final regular season game, caused some trouble in the paint, drawing two early fouls from Fajemisin while leading all players with six in the first period. Doherty would go on to finish the game with 15 points on 5-7 shooting.
The Anteaters bounced back in the second period. Freshman guard Andee Ritter got the ball rolling with a triple to break open the quarter. After the Aggies went on a seven-point run, Fajemisin answered with a lay-up and a pair of free throws. By half, UCI cut the lead to five, 39-34.
“I just wanted to play hard,” said Fajemisin. “Obviously it was an important day for us as it was senior night … so we just wanted to give it our best effort.”
In the third quarter, the Anteaters went on an unwavering six-point run. With 7:45 remaining in the period, Cheung-Sutton followed up a miss from Ritter to give the UCI their first lead of the game since the first quarter. The Aggies, however, garnered a bit of momentum late in the period behind junior guard Taylor McGuire who helped distance the Aggies by a nine-point margin heading into the fourth.
When desperation time set in during the fourth quarter, Cheung-Sutton and Fajemisin answered. With roughly five minutes remaining, the Aggies extended the lead to 14 before Cheung-Sutton and Fajemisin went on an 18-point scoring binge. With 2:17 remaining, a Cheung-Sutton free throw managed to cut the lead back down to nine.
“The focus for this game felt a lot different for me,” said Cheung-Sutton. “It was senior night … emotions are way higher and I think that just kind of fueled me a little more.”
Despite the push, time became the worst adversarial of the game. With the Anteaters over the foul limit, the Aggies drew contact and finished out the game, 76-70.
“I think [during] Thursday and today, [the team] demonstrated that they’re capable of doing what’s necessary to be successful,” said Oliver.
While a victory would have sent off Cheung-Sutton and Fajemsin with a storybook finish, the Anteaters’ season still lives on, as the team won a coin flip over Cal State Fullerton (3-27, 1-15) for the eighth spot in the Big West Tournament.
No. 8 seeded UCI will face off against No. 5 seeded UC Santa Barbara into Big West Conference Tournament tonight at 6 p.m. in the Bren Events Center.