To kick off their annual black-and-blue rivalry against conference frontrunner Long Beach State (16-8, 7-2), the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (3-19, 1-7) battled back from an 18-point deficit and came within five during the waning minutes of regulation, but the 49ers ultimately held the ‘Eaters off for a 68-63 victory Saturday evening at the Bren Events Center.
“I will take that,” said head coach Tamara Inoue following the loss. “When we fight like that … that’s a great game. I’m not upset by any means, we played really well.”
After a slow third quarter, UCI shot 67 percent from the floor in the fourth to erase Long Beach’s largest lead at 18. With a little over six minutes to go, the ‘Eaters went on a 12-4 run to cut the lead to 10.
A triple from sophomore guard Andee Ritter — her fourth on the night — followed by a lay-up from senior guard Irene Chavez forced Long Beach to call a quick time-out.
With 24 seconds left in the contest, however, the surge proved to have come just a few minutes too late.
UCI would not get anything out of their last possession as the Beach let the clock run out to bring the game to a close.
“Loved to have more time on the clock,” said coach Inoue. “I mean, we would always wish that … but I thought we executed well [and] I can’t be upset with that.”
With a short-ended front court, senior forward Shereen Sutherland logged 39 minutes of action and ignited the ‘Eaters in the near comeback period with eight fourth quarter points.
Sutherland would go to post her third double-double on the season and second consecutive 20-point outing with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
“With Sabrina [Engelstad] being injured, it has really dampened on Shereen’s rest,” said coach Inoue. “But Shereen is a good player … she’s a fighter who doesn’t get winded very fast … her presence alone will always allow Andee [Ritter] or Irene [Chavez] or [McKenzie] Piper open shots, so we can’t take her out.”
Senior forward Mckenzie Piper and Ritter combined for 25 points, 12 of which came from the four triples that Ritter managed to hit on eight attempts for the night.
In her ninth start of the season, Chavez chipped in seven points and five assists as junior guard Tierra Hicks added four points, four assists and six rebounds.
Freshman Brooke Bayman came off the bench and eased her way back with three assists and three rebounds in her return after sitting out the last game due to injury.
Long Beach was led by their senior trio of Jewelyn Sawyer, Raven Benton and Madison Montgomery, who hit double-digit scoring with 17, 16 and 10 points respectively.
As a team, UCI was quite efficient on offense, converting half of their shot attempts (25-50) and going 8-16 from three-point range.
Although UCI did find their shots, doing so proved to be challenging, as the 49ers ensured that UCI would have to work for every possession.
By the end of the game, Long Beach had forced 18 UCI turnovers that they used to cash in 23 points.
“We were waiting for [the pressure] … and it did come,” said coach Inoue. “They’re really good at changing defenses. In the half court, they’re really good at showing as though they’re in man when they’re in a zone … so to run anything is difficult.”
The ‘Eaters matched Long Beach’s energy to open the first half of action, shooting 48 percent from the floor to the 49ers’ 47.
In the opening quarter, Montgomery got the game rolling for Long Beach on a swooping lay-up, but Ritter and Piper knocked down consecutive threes to help push the ‘Eaters out on a 8-4 lead.
Long Beach came out of a timeout firing away, and behind a string of midrange jumpers from Benton, the 49ers would capture a slight 20-18 advantage by the end of the first 10 minutes.
In the second period, the 49ers drew first blood again with a jumper, but Sutherland answered right back with a lay-up. Both teams would go on to exchange basket-for-basket until UCI found a bit of momentum on a 8-3 run, and with a Chavez triple, reclaimed their first lead since the opening minute of the game at 28-27.
Out of another timeout, however, Long Beach turned up their aggressiveness, and on a Sawyer basket, they would stamp in nine unanswered for a 36-28 advantage.
The 49ers did not cool off from there, using their momentum from the second quarter to break out on a 7-2 run to open the third quarter.
Senior forward Brittany Glassow briefly disrupted the run with a triple, but Long Beach kept firing away and would go on to lead by 12, 56-44 heading into the final frame.
When Long Beach threatened to run away with the game, UCI showed off their competitive fire, pulling back on a 10-2 run that came just too late, as the 49ers managed to come up with a stop to hand the ‘Eaters their fifth consecutive loss of the season.
UCI will round out their three game home stand next Thursday when they return to the Bren Events Center to host Cal Poly for a 7 p.m. tip.