At the tail end of a challenging preseason slate, the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (2-12) got what they desperately needed heading into conference play next Thursday: a dominant victory.
Of the past few losses, the ‘Eaters have shown spurts of the aggressiveness and hustle that head coach Tamara Inoue had hoped to incite in her young players—many of which are newcomers to UCI—as a first year head coach in the Big West. The problem has been maintaining that aggressive, high-energy play for 40 minutes.
On Thursday night, UCI did not only stir the ship towards the right direction by picking up a victory in their cross-town matchup against Concordia (5-7), but did so in commanding fashion by pulling away with a 40-point third quarter—most in UCI school history and in the Big West on the year—to topple the Eagles at 92-61. The scoring binge came after a first half where the ‘Eaters had responded from trailing the Eagles by one.
The most encouraging sign, however, lies in the consistency at which the team had displayed across all four periods of play. As a team, the ‘Eaters had finished shooting 40.5 percent from the floor and 56.5 percent from the line while outrebounding their opposition (55-50), outscoring their opposition in the paint (40-14), and taking care of the ball better than their opposition had (29-17).
UCI’s starting five also provided the production that coach Inoue had expected of since the start of the season. Sophomore guard Andee Ritter connected on five triples and led the ‘Eaters with a game-high 21 points. Despite playing just 15 minutes due to foul trouble, senior forward Shereen Sutherland commanded the paint and made the most of her minutes by adding 17 points on 7-11 shooting from the floor.
In her first start since late November, junior guard Tierra Hicks had a near double double with 12 points and nine rebounds as freshman Brooke Bayman stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, five assists, four rebounds, and three steals. Junior forward Sabrina Engelstad cooled off from her 18-point burst against USC, putting up just six points, but came up big defensively with a career high four rejections.
Both teams got out of the gates slowly as neither team managed to find the basket for the first three minutes of the opening quarter. The Eagles eventually broke the the ice first and went on a 5-0 run before coach Inoue called a time-out to rally the ‘Eaters back. The team would respond accordingly by cutting the deficit to one on subsequent lay-ins from Hicks and Engelstad. Fired up from a Ritter triple—her first on the night—and another Hicks layup, UCI quickly took on a 10-3 run that would give them a 12-10 lead.
When the ‘Eaters attempted to extend their run, Concordia bounced right back with a few free throws and a triple to keep themselves within striking distance; with another chance at the line, junior guard Madeline Sulka would knock down a pair of shots from the charity stripe to momentarily reclaim their lead for the Eagles before a Sutherland lay-up put the ‘Eaters up by one, 18-17, to close out the period.
Sutherland carried her momentum into the second quarter and scored the first three points for the ‘Eaters to extend the lead to four, 21-17. UCI would stay out front for the better part of the quarter until the Eagles knotted up the game at 25-25 at which the game would progress through a sea-saw period that saw to four lead changes in three minutes of actions. By the minute mark, Concordia’s junior guard Sopavy Seng, who finished with a team-high 16 points for the Eagles, knocked down a shot from down town to carry a 33-32 advantage heading into the half.
Emerging out of the tunnel for the second half, the ‘Eaters looked poised and determined for a victory. After scoring nine unanswered, UCI extended their run to 29-4, and would go on to shoot 57.1 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc, and 73.7 percent from the free throw line. Ritter went perfect from the field and scored 10 of her 21. Playing with three fouls, Sutherland was limited to just four minutes but also joined Ritter’s 10-point club.
Defensively, the ‘Eaters held the Eagles to just eight points on 14.3 percent shooting from the floor, and missed all nine of their three point attempts. Concordia also went on to commit 11 turnovers and 11 personal fouls.
Heading into the fourth, UCI did not let up, continuing their onslaught with a 9-4 run. With a 37 point lead with 8:18 left in regulation, Concordia could all but work to minimize the deficit as UCI paced the ‘Eagles for the rest of the game to a 92-61 victory.
Capping off their final preseason game on the right foot, UCI will open conference play next Thursday at 7pm and will be tested once more when they face UC Davis (9-4), who currently sits atop the conference.