The UC Irvine women’s basketball team (1-9) battled through three quarters with UNLV (8-1) Monday night at the Bren Events Center, trading baskets and not giving up more than a six-point deficit before a cold fourth quarter slipped away from the ‘Eaters and allowed the Lady Rebels to capitalize on a run that was ultimately realized in a 62-46 victory.
In the fourth quarter, UCI had shot just 20 percent from the floor and converted a collective eight points while UNLV cranked up the pressure with an 18-point offensive surge. The Rebels had cracked open the final 10 minutes on a 16-0 run before the ‘Eaters finally scratched and attempted to stop the bleeding when sophomore guard Andee Ritter drew a foul and converted a pair of made free throws. Ritter would go on to register 10 points, six rebounds, and two steals on the night.
However, with just 3:41 minutes remaining, the hole was too steep to fill and a subsequent Ritter triple and lay-up from senior forward Shereen Sutherland, who finished with a season-low five points, would only dent the deficit of an already determined game.
Senior guard Irene Chavez captured a team-high 12 points and seven rebounds as junior forward Sabrina Engelstad added eight points of her own for the ‘Eaters.
Engelstad scored five of her eight points during the first three minutes of the game where UCI had aggressively went on a 6-0 run before junior guard Dakota Gonzalez converted a lay-up and drained a triple to put UNLV on the board.
When the Lady Rebels took their first lead by hitting a jumper at the 4:31 mark, Ritter answered with a basket to put the ‘Eaters right back up by one, 13-12.
UNLV would go on to narrow out the ‘Eaters by the end of the quarter on a late jumper, bringing the score to 17-15, but UCI had bested the Rebels by shooting an efficient 60 percent from the floor while holding their opposition to 38.5 percent.
The teams continued to go back and forth in a second period that saw to two ties and two lead changes (three ties and five lead changes by the half).
Reminiscent of the first quarter, the ‘Eaters got the ball rolling first, scoring seven unanswered to retake the lead (22-17) on two Chavez free throws, a triple from junior guard Sydney Hua, and a lay-up from senior forward McKenzie Piper. Piper, who made her first return from injury Saturday, showed a lot more aggression and assertiveness offensively in her second game back with seven points on 3-7 shooting on the night.
However, junior guards Dylan Gonzalez—Dakota’s twin sister—and Brook Johnson continued to attack and keep UNLV in the contest. When Johnson’s triple was dampened out with a subsequent Chavez triple, Gonzalez connected on a lay-in that pulled UNLV within three, 25-22.
At the two minute, Gonzalez would go on to bury a shot from downtown to regain the lead and when freshman guard Brooke Bayman knotted the game up at 27-27, Johnson would emerge big with a mid-ranger to take yet another two point advantage at the end of the quarter, 29-27.
In a staunch effort, UCI continued to battle in the third. Piper led the charge for the ‘Eaters, putting in five points including a lay-up that cut the deficit down to one after another triple from Dylan Gonzalez had pushed the lead to five.
As they had in the first half, however, UNLV found some momentum late in the quarter and converted their last four attempts at the basket to grab the greatest lead of the game at six.
Carry on their productive third quarter close, UNLV made a final push in the forth to distance themselves from UCI and ultimately take the victory.
With their eighth victory, UNLV moves to 8-1 on the season, which is their best start in 15 years. The Lady Rebels have received some national recognition after picking up victories over Pac-12 and SEC powerhouses in USC (7-1) and Ole Miss (7-2). USC and Ole Miss had been undefeated prior to their losses to UNLV.
The ‘Eaters will have four days to regroup before hosting Bakersfield Saturday at 2pm where they will battle for their second win on the season.