Hosting Big Sky foe Southern Utah (5-6) Monday and Pac-12 elite USC (9-2) Wednesday, the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (1-11) had their hands full this week with a pair of tough matchups.
Prior to their game against the Thunderbirds Monday evening, UCI had led in their series matchup, 2-0, with their last victory coming a little over a year ago when they defeated Southern Utah, 63-58, in Cedar City. However, the Thunderbirds would extract their revenge this year when they trudged through three tight quarters with the ‘Eaters and ultimately had the final say in the fourth to earn their first victory over UCI, 70-58.
Two days later, the ‘Eaters schedule did not lighten up as they faced off against arguably their toughest challenge of the preseason yet in a USC squad that had already gone 3-0 against other Big West conference members in Hawai’i, UC Riverside, and Long Beach State. Against the ‘Eaters, the Trojans has gone 2-0 in both their meetings, including a 75-56 victory last year at the Galen Center.
On Wednesday, USC went on to make it 4-0 against Big West competition and 3-0 against the ‘Eaters when they captured an 83-45 win to round out their pre-season play.
On Monday, the last nine minutes of regulation became the game defining period as the ‘Eaters were deadlocked with the Thunderbirds, 51-51, after slugging out three quarters that saw eight ties and nine lead changes.
With 8:27 remaining in regulation, the Thunderbirds attempted to pull away with a go-ahead jumper that was patented with a free throw and triple, but UCI closed in with a pair of free throws from freshman guard Brook Bayman and a triple—her fifth on the night—from sophomore guard Andee Ritter to draw the deficit to one, 57-56.
While the ‘Eaters were able to trade baskets with Southern Utah early in the period as they had done all game long, they eventually ran out of steam. Despite a lay-up from senior forward Shereen Sutherland that had pulled the deficit down to three, the Thunderbirds would go on to score nine unanswered to put away the game at 70-58.
Ritter led the team with 17 points on 5-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Her five triples brings her season total to 31, which currently leads the Big West. Bayman would go on to finish the game with nine points and five assist.
UCI’s forwards also caused a lot of trouble for the Thunderbirds with Sutherland garnering 15 points and six rebounds as junior Sabrina Engelstad registered 13 points and seven rebounds of her own.
From the opening tip, the ‘Eaters jumped out on an early 6-3 advantage—what would become their largest lead of the game—with Engelstad making a conventional three point play before Ritter bombed in a three-point shot. However, senior forward Jessica Richardson, who finished with a team-high 13 points, would knot the game up on a subsequent jump shot.
At the 3:56 mark, Richardson gave the Thunderbirds their first lead of the night at 10-8, but the advantage was short lived when Engelstad answered right back with a jumper.
Courtesy of a pair of free throws, the Thunderbirds carried a 14-11 lead heading into the second quarter.
Ritter continued her hot shooting in the second period, burying eight of her 17 points. Ritter began by knocking down her second triple to even the score, and when the Thunderbirds went on a little 4-0 run, Ritter drained another shot from downtown to cut the deficit to one, 18-17.
With a little under six minutes to go, an Engelstad jumper gave UCI their first lead since the nine-minute mark of the first quarter.
Customary to the tone that had been set from the opening tip, Southern Utah would answer right back and narrowly took a 34-30 lead heading into the half.
UCI’s effort did not waver as they came out of the tunnel for the second half. Their best performance came in the third when they shot 53.3 percent from the floor to keep themselves toe to toe with the Thunderbirds. And once again, with 3:02 remaining in the third, Engelstad hit a short jumper to put the ‘Eaters back over the top—briefly before Southern Utah would tie it up and snag it right back to end to end the quarter, 51-49.
After scoring seven points within the first five minutes of the final period, the ‘Eaters hit an untimely dry spell, shooting a game low 12.5 percent as the Thunderbirds synonymously ran out on a 13-point attack to steal the game, 70-58.
USC made it much more of a one-sided affair Wednesday afternoon when they managed to shut down an early ‘Eater run to route UCI for the rest of the game.
Following a Sutherland lay-in and Engelstad jump shot that gave the ‘Eaters their largest lead of the game, the Trojans went on a 13-0 run to overturn the advantage and cushion their lead at 14-4.
Engelstad, who went on to lead the ‘Eaters and tie her season-high with 18 points, sparked off a 6-2 run to bring the score to 16-10, but USC powered right back and took a 20-10 advantage that extended to 28-12 by the 7:24 minute of the second period.
While Engelstad and Sutherland scoring a combined eight points—the only points that UCI managed to put up in the period—sophomore guard Aliyah Mazyck, who led USC with 16 points and six steals, registered seven points in the quarter to lead a 16-4 break that would blossom into a 36-18 lead by the half.
As the Trojans continued their offensive onslaught, Engelstad breathed some life into the ‘Eaters once more with another jumper that ignited a 9-0 run.
However, it would be the last major bright spot for the ‘Eaters as USC would end UCI’s run with a triple to bring the score up to 49-39.
Shooting 66.7 percent from the floor in the fourth, the Trojans racked up 34 points to put away the game at 83-85.
In the loss, Sutherland contributed 14 points and a team-high eight boards as Ritter added eight points and four rebounds, but had her consecutive three-point shooting streak snapped as she went 0-3 from beyond the arc.
UCI’s tough pre-season schedule will end next Thursday when they face Concordia at 7:00pm before opening conference against UC Davis on Jan. 5th.