UC Irvine women’s basketball (3-16, 1-4) could not avenge their first season series loss against UC Riverside (9-8, 3-1) Thursday night as the Highlanders used their size advantage to overpower the ‘Eaters, en route to a 79-58 victory.
UCI’s ball handling was spotty early on in the game as the ‘Eaters registered 14 turnovers to the Highlanders, two before the half. The ‘Eaters would go on to finish the game with 21. Those miscues would later equate to 25 points for the Highlanders.
“[The early turnovers] were out of character for our team to start,” head coach Tamara Inoue said. “We just kind of fumbled [the ball] and missed some easy buckets too … when you don’t start well, it’s really hard to pick it up.”
Without the services of junior forward Sabrina Engelstad, senior Shereen Sutherland had to bear the brunt of the impact against Riverside’s bigs in senior Réjane Vérin and freshman Skyler Lewis.
The 6 foot 2 forward managed to register her second double-double on the season with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes of action, but Vérin and Lewis were too much to handle as the duo combined for 29, 17 and 12 respectively.
“You can’t hide the size [advantage] when Sabrina is not in there,” coach Inoue said. “Shereen had done her best but [Riverside] really found our guards and bumped them up and we couldn’t [defensively] sustain.”
The Highlanders would end the game with a 40-18 point advantage in scoring from within the paint.
Freshman guard Brooke Bayman was one point shy of a double-double with nine points and a career-high 10 assists, the most for the program since former ‘Eater Raelyn Cheung Sutton — UCI’s assist leader last season — dished out 10 against UC Davis last March.
Junior guard Tierra Hicks added 11 points as sophomore guard Andee Ritter paced in eight points. With Riverside collapsing out on her, the sharpshooter managed to go just 2-6 from downtown on the night.
“We’re always trying to fight [and] have [her defender] chase cause when we get that chase, we get an opening, coach Inoue said. “There is no secret with Andee … we just need her to cut harder now.”
Sutherland scored six of the ‘Eaters 11 first quarter points, but the Highlanders had their way offensively, opening the game 5-0 and closing it on a 11-2 run to keep UCI at bay, 22-11, by the end of the first 10 minutes of action.
Hicks and Sutherland attempted to propel the ‘Eaters momentum up in the second period with back to back layups but Lewis hit a jumper and pounded the ball inside the paint for six straight points to extend the lead out to 33-17.
UCI could not stop the bleeding in the third as the Highlanders shot a game-best 66.7 percent from the floor and outscored the ‘Eaters in the quarter, 24-11.
Senior guard Simone DeCoud, Riverside’s second best scorer behind Vérin this season with an average of 13 points per game, also had her best quarter of the night when she ignited a 9-3 run with a triple to open the second half.
Bayman reinvigorated the team’s energy by drawing a foul and hitting two free throws on the line before draining a rare triple a little under the halfway mark to dig into a 25-point deficit.
“[Brooke] works so hard,” coach Inoue said. “And she’s really been shooting the three a lot and we’ve been on her [about it]. I have allowed her to shoot that three … she just has to want to.”
Despite trailing by 31 — the largest lead of the night — with just 9:50 left in regulation, UCI continued to battle.
Ritter would go on to hit her second triple of the evening as Sutherland’s aggressiveness in the paint earned her free throws and a jumper on back-to-back plays. Coming off the bench, senior guard Irene Chavez and junior guard Sydney Hua each knocked down two triples to score half of UCI’s points in the quarter.
Collectively, the ‘Eaters turned the table on Riverside by shooting 66.7 percent from the floor and won the quarter, 24-16.
However, the push was a little too late, as the UCI had dug an early hole that was too great to overcome. Settled in with a comfortable lead, the Highlanders would go on to take the season series, 78-58 to get back over .500 and a winning overall record at 9-8.
“They are capable and I believe in them,” coach Inoue said. “We play well when things are going well but we got to learn how to grit it out and to have a little more fight.”
With the loss, the ‘Eaters are now deadlocked with Fullerton in season standings. UCI will look to turn the corner when they travel to Hawai’i next Thursday for a late 9:00 p.m. tip.