If there was ever a desperately needed statement game on a Big West season that has already been marred by two straight losses, the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (3-14, 1-2) had found theirs in the form of a 77-52 victory over CSUN (8-9, 1-2) Wednesday night.
“[I hope] the team keeps that feeling [and] getting that understanding of how it feels to win by playing that 40 minutes and battling,” head coach Tamara Inoue said following the team’s victory. “If they could remember [this game] and remember how it felt…then hopefully we could keep rolling on it.”
UCI’s stunning victory over CSUN was earned by an unparalleled offensive drive that seemingly clicked on all cylinders.
As a matter of fact, it was a type of night where UCI had finished shooting a season best 50 percent from the floor, 61.5 percent from three, and 91.7 percent from the charity stripe; where four of five starters scored in double figures. Freshman Brooke Bayman, the only starter to score just five points on the night, made it up with nine assists, six rebounds, and two steals.
It was a type of night where senior forward Shereen Sutherland, and sophomore guard Andee Ritter combined for 49 points, 24 and 25 respectively, on 17-30 shooting from the floor and 10-10 from the line; where Sutherland had six points in every quarter and Ritter cashed in five triples on 5-6 shooting.
“I really wanted to beat CSUN,” Sutherland said, “It was really important and so I just made sure that I was focused and I was ready and I came out aggressive.”
In the rebounding category, an area that the ‘Eaters have struggled in for better part of the first half of the season, UCI had outrebounded CSUN, 37-30 (21-10 in the first half).
“[We were] just constantly flying to ball and I think [the team] just did a good job battling in there and that was a big point of emphasis,” coach Inoue said.
In the first half, the ‘Eaters reaffirmed an age-old cliché that has surely been echoed in locker rooms all across the nation: Basketball is a game of runs. Quite simply, UCI had made the most of theirs often and early in the contest—to monstrous efficiency.
Converting 68.8 percent of their shots within the opening period, the ‘Eaters didn’t take long to crumble a 2-2 tie by bombarding CSUN with 18 unanswered points to take a sizeable 20-2 lead—that they would not relinquish for the rest of the game—by the 2:48 mark.
On the other side of the floor, UCI ran an effect zone that held the Matadors to just six points on 21.4 percent shooting for the entirety of the period. Sophomore center Channon Fluker, who has already captured two Big West Conference player of the week nods and is averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds a night, was held to just two points and two rebounds.
“Playing the zone today was the best thing for us because they are so athletic,” coach Inoue said. “If we could just gap them and fly out to them…that was our best way to beat them and our players really did a good job of understanding, recognizing, and playing to the scout.”
UCI’s explosive opening quarter was reminiscent of their game against Riverside at which the team had carried a 18-6 advantage only to see it evaporate before the half.
“We started off really well against Riverside [and] we started off really well tonight” coach Inoue said, “the biggest challenge was sustaining it for the next 20 minutes.”
Sutherland and Ritter ensured that that the team would sustain it, scoring a collective 12 points (26 in the first half) to keep the momentum on the ‘Eaters end.
As she had done in the first period, Sutherland continued to attack the basket, extending the lead to 20 (26-6) with a crossing hook shot.
“Shereen came ready today and faced up and got aggressive,” coach Inoue said, “She didn’t settle…we’ve been trying all year to get Shereen to never settle and when she’s not settling…you can’t ignore her. When our post players are tough, you always want to go inside.”
CSUN improved their shooting to 45.5 percent from the floor and answered with a lay-in and a free throw but Ritter’s three-point prowess became a major concern for the Matadors who overplayed her and rewarded her with three straight baskets at the line. After converting all three free throws, Ritter came right back and fired in a triple to bring the score to 35-9.
“I feel really good [shooting the ball] because I’m really getting better at coming off our screens and getting open,” Ritter said. “That’s what really gets me in the rhythm.”
Senior guard Emily Cole dug into the deficit with a pair of long-range bombs, but the ‘Eaters’ weathered the storm and capped the half off on a Sutherland lay-in to hold a 44-20 lead.
CSUN’s last hurrah came in the third when they scored six straight to shave the deficit to 19, forcing coach Inoue to call a time-out.
“[Coach] told us about [how] CSUN played Fresno and how they were down by 18 and ended up coming back and winning the game,” Sutherland said. “She told us that they’ve been in this position before and that [we] had to keep going, keep working hard, and keep going at them like we had been doing.”
UCI responded and behind a Sutherland lay-up, the ‘Eaters ignited a 12-5 run. Ritter put the exclamation on the quarter, draining 28-foot three to the sheer excitement of her teammates who tackled her into their arms.
“[She] shoots those all the time,” coach Inoue said. “Andee is not a pure shooter…she works at it and she get’s extra shots in with coach Ce[cilia]. So that range…I give her the green light because I know she works on it.”
The ‘Eaters would witness their second best scoring period in the fourth, shooting 54.5 percent from the floor and 60 percent from three as Ritter and Sutherland stamped in a combined 14 points for safe keeping before the buzzer locked in the ‘Eaters first conference victory at 77-52.
“We just have to keep going with our energy and winning that third quarter…especially that third quarter because we have been coming out pretty strong,” Ritter said.
With Cal State Fullerton picking up their third loss on the season against Hawaii, the ‘Eaters are now tied with CSUN and Hawai’i in conference standings at 1-2.
UCI will attempt to draw their first win streak of the season when they take a short trip to Cal State Fullerton Saturday for a 6:00pm tip.