Senior guard Irene Chavez drew a clamor of applause from the crowd when she pulled up and drained a triple to cut Hawai’i’s lead to eight with 5:53 remaining in regulation. The crowd erupted again when drove hard into the basket and lobbed up a high lay-in to shave the deficit to 12.
However, in a game where the Rainbow Wahine had already rung up their lead by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, there was not much else for the fans—who came out in support of Think Pink Week—to cheer about in UC Irvine women’s basketball’s (4-23, 2-11) 73-60 loss at the Bren Events Center Thursday evening.
Despite some well-timed spurts and runs that included a fourth quarter effort that teased at a major come back, the ‘Eaters fell behind some of their customary woes that have unfortunately defined much of their season.
The Rainbow Wahine (9-17, 5-9) also moved the ball well, registering 21 assists on the night to dissect the ‘Eaters zone defense.
In the rebounding category, UCI was dominated, 44-25. 13 of the 44 boards would help Hawai’i snag 16 points off second chance opportunities.
“[Rebounding] has been a problem all season long,” head coach Tamara Inoue said. “When you play a zone, you’re bound to give up more o[ffensive] boards and man-to-man we still give up a lot too so it’s just [about] ripping that ball and grabbing it…and that’s just been a challenge all season long. Shereen [Sutherland], as athletic as she is…she gets up there, but she needs help too…and that’s something Brittany [Glassow] was doing for us [by] running in there and grabbing some boards with us.”
Chavez led the ‘Eaters in their final, thunderous charge, going a perfect 3-3 from the floor and 2-2 from beyond the arc to post nine of her 22 points on the game.
Freshman guard Brooke Bayman, who was injured and sat out of UCI’s last meeting with Hawai’i, added 11 points and four assists as senior forward Shereen Sutherland was a point shy of another double double with 9 points and 11 rebounds.
It was a close-knit affair in the first few possessions following the tip as both teams rolled out strong, trading basket for basket. The ‘Eaters would take the first advantage of the game on back to back jumpers from Piper and Glassow to garner their largest lead of the night, but Hawai’i would answer with a triple and a lay-in to take overtake the advantage.
The quarter would see two more lead changes, but UCI went cold while Hawai’i strung together an 8-0 run to create some separation, 22-14.
Senior forward McKenzie Piper, who finished with six points, snapped UCI’s cold streak with a jumper as the ‘Eaters went on to score five unanswered. A Chavez triple and free throw would bring the ‘Eaters within three, 22-19.
But just like the first period, UCI’s early spark withered as Hawai’i went on to do much of their damage towards the end of the second frame. Behind a triple from sophomore forward Leah Salanoa, who went on to become Hawai’i’s leading scorer with 20 points, the Rainbow Wahine broke out on a 12-2 run to stay ahead, 34-21.
“We can score,” coach Inoue said. “One thing that we have been doing is scoring…but it’s just the resistance on the other side that has been a challenge for us ”
Hawai’i did not show any signs of slowing down in the second half, converting all but one of their shot attempts to post their largest lead of the game at 20 (45-25) at the 7:56 mark.
UCI continued to trudge on, however, chipping away at the lead and keeping the Rainbow Wahine on their toes.
Coming off the bench, junior guard Tierra Hicks put some pressure on Hawai’i’s front court, getting to the rim on a number of occasions where she earned and converted a pair of throws at the 5:33 mark to help cut the lead to 13, 46-33.
Chavez would cap the quarter off with a triple—her third of six on the night—to keep the ‘Eaters within striking distance at 55-41.
Chavez continued her hot shooting in the final period, knocking down back-to-back triples to trade baskets with Hawai’i.
Even with the Rainbow Wahine all over her, sophomore guard Andee Ritter still managed to squeeze in a triple of her own as UCI painstakingly plugged away at the lead.
With 6:54 remaining, Chavez brought down the deficit to single digits (62-54) when she dropped her head and barreled hard into the paint for a high-arcing lay-up.
All in the while, the Rainbow Wahine did not show any sense of urgency, deflecting UCI’s rally with baskets of their own and with a couple of timely shots, Hawai’i managed to hold off the ‘Eaters, stamping out the game at 73-60.
“Today was a rough one,” coach Inoue said. “I thought we had good momentum but in the first half we just kind of didn’t come out ready to go as hard as we needed to. Hawai’i didn’t want to lose either…they’re on a six game losing streak so we knew it was going to be a battle and credit to them…they did a great job.”
Entering the game a full game ahead of Fullerton and 1.5 games back from Hawai’i, the loss will not help with the ‘Eaters attempts at locking up the eighth and final spot in the Big West tournament, which is only two weeks away.
With three games left in conference, UCI will potentially need a big victory in their upcoming two game road trip, which will begin this Saturday when they face off against Long Beach State for a 4:00pm tip.