Playing without the same fervor that they had shown in the game that had got them into the Big West Tournament, eighth-seeded UC Irvine women’s basketball (5-26) had their season come to an end in the preliminary round where they fell to fifth-seeded UC Riverside (16-14), 92-60, Tuesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid.
Sophomore guard Andee Ritter did her best to keep UCI’s season alive, leading the team with 20 points while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc—one of her best shooting performances in recent games.
“Andee did a good job,” first-year head coach Tamara Inoue said. “50 percent from three is all we ask for…not 46, not 47, I want 50 and she does that for me day in and day out.”
Senior Irene Chavez, who had a 21-point outing against Fullerton last Saturday, still managed to put up 13 points, but struggled from the field, shooting just 3-17 overall and going 0-6 from three. The rest of UCI’s senior pack could not find the basket, combining for just 15 points on the night.
Even so, it was the five seniors who combined for 54 points against Cal State Fullerton to will the ‘Eaters into the tournament.
Having been eliminated, the game marks the last time Chavez, Sutherland, Glassow, Chloe Kellum, and Mckenzie Piper would don the yellow and blue for the ‘Eaters.
“I was in the locker room just thanking the seniors,” coach Inoue said following the game. “It’s tough…to have a new coach come in who you kind of didn’t choose to play for…it’s tough…and for them to allow me and my staff to come in here and change things up…means a lot to me and also to the players who have sat out to really welcome us and buy into what we’re doing.
A short-handed UC Riverside team was led by senior guard Simone DeCoud who registered a double double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Lauren Holt also had a double double with 20 points and 10 rebounds as junior guard Michelle Curry finished with 20 of her own.
UCI’s offensive withered towards the end of the first period as the team would go on to connect on just 34.5 percent of their shots as compared to Riverside, who got off to a slow start but finished with 51.5 percent from the floor.
The ‘Eaters also struggled to protect the painted area where they were outscored, 42-26, and outrebounded, 42-31.
UCI got off to a great start with Ritter coming off a staggered screen to drain a triple to get the ‘Eaters on a 12-2 run.
However, after opening the contest shooting 60 percent, things quickly turned south for the ‘Eaters following a Riverside timeout.
“We started off [games] well for the majority of the season…but to sustain it…to play forty minutes has been a challenge,” head coach Tamara Inoue said. “[During] timeouts we always say that they are going to turn it up and that we have to turn it up as well.”
The Highlanders settled down and came right back out with a heightened intensity and point of emphasis on attacking the paint.
Led by a string of drives to the basket from DeCoud, the Highlanders improved their 12.5 percent shooting to 47.1 percent by the end of the quarter and quickly brought the deficit down to two. A subsequent triple gave them their first lead of the night, 13-12.
Sutherland answered back for the ‘Eaters with a low post jumper as Chavez drew a foul and cashed in both shots but the Highlanders, who seemed to have found their offensive groove, stayed out front, 22-16.
Both teams came out of the second firing away at one other. UCI kept Riverside in their grasp and prevented the opposition from going up by more than four points.
Following a DeCoud jumper that gave Riverside a seven-point advantage, senior forward Brittany Glassow (six points and six rebounds) drained a triple to bring the score back to 26-22. And when sophomore guard Malou De Kergret blitzed in for an easy deuce, Sutherland nullified it with a lay-in of her own.
While the ‘Eaters kept themselves within contention by trading baskets, they failed to make any major stops at the other end. As UCI’s offensive went cold, Riverside continued to chuck away. Going on a 10-2 run to close out the half, the Highlanders pushed their led to double-digits, 46-33.
Teasing out an aggressive push that resembled the run that gave them an early 10-point lead, UCI broke into the second half on back-to-back lay-ups from Piper and Ritter.
Riverside was not as slow to the punch as they were to start the game, however, continuing to attack the ‘Eaters interior defense where they had found success from the latter end of the first half.
Despite freshman Brooke Bayman’s (six points and four boards) free throws to cut the deficit to single digits, 50-41, the Highlanders would go on a 19-5 run—nine of which came from Curry who had been playing with four fouls—to close out the quarter 69-46.
The Highlanders would run out the next ten minutes to secure a 92-60 victory over the ‘Eaters and advance to the quarterfinals today against fourth seeded UC Santa Barbara.
For the ‘Eaters, coach Inoue will take some time off before preparing for a major shake up in the offseason with the young talent that had sat out this past year coupled with the incoming talent that will soon be welcomed into the program.
“I’ve never, in any of my coaching stints, had five transfers sit out for me in [this] first year so to have them with me all year long has been really a true blessing to let them come in and set the groundwork,” coach Inoue said. “My transfers are young as well as this team…we still have five incoming freshmen as well…so I’m going to get some rest and rest my voice…then I’m going to sit with some coaches [and] ask them what they did when they had a brand new team like this…but I have really encouraged,” coach Inoue said.