By Rena Zhu
Kicking off the preseason with their first game against Utah State University, the UC Irvine women’s basketball team came up victorious against the Aggies with a close call, 87-84, at the Bren Events Center on Friday night.
Tied up 84-84 with seconds remaining, the game almost transitioned into overtime, but junior guard Deijah Blanks made one final attempt, shooting the ball from across the court just as the buzzer sounded. The ball hit the rim, sending it flying up above the basket. A few initial gasps and groans of disappointment were produced by the audience, as they thought the shot was missed, but it quickly turned into loud cheers and claps when the ball fell straight downward into the hoop, confirming the shot and ending the game with a score of 87 to 84.
Blanks, who redshirted last year, finished the game with 13 points, three rebounds and two steals.
Freshman forward Tahlia Garza led the ‘Eaters with 16 points and also clutched eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Lauren Saiki assisted Garza in her shots six times to go along with her four points while junior guard Andee Ritter, one of three returners this year, shot consistently and knocked down a three pointer and a pair of free throws to give an added boost in the ‘Eaters’ efforts.
The game started off with ball possession in the opponent team, but quickly changed when sophomore guard Yazzy Sa’Dullah stole the ball and made a three point shot at nine minutes 29 seconds, setting the score apart 3-0. However, the ‘Eaters ended the first quarter with careless mistakes and significantly fewer rebounds. Score differences summed up to 10 points or more, but the ‘Eaters fought back and headed into the half trailing by four, 33-29.
The third quarter, however, went by uneventfully for UCI, as the ‘Eaters failed to build on their momentum. The scoring gap went back up to more than 10 points, causing the audience to remain silent and sit in agitation.
However, the ‘Eaters came back in the fourth and with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and a score of 79 to 82, the Anteaters decided to step up their game, dribbling and passing the ball as quickly and efficiently as possible, pushing themselves to their limits, eventually tying the score at 84-84.
“They got to play through mistakes, and really grow quickly,” head coach Tamara Inoue said, “but one thing I think that we’re gonna be really good at is that we’re deep, you know.” Coach Inoue was very proud of her team’s first successful win. Utah State University is an experienced team with many returner players, compared to UC Irvine’s, a relatively new team with only four returners and all new recruits this year.
With the game locked, Blanks came away with the ball on a steal from sophomore guard Sa’Dullah, who finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, and two steals. Blanks fired up a heave from halfcourt and knocked the game winner in.
“We’re a really resilient team, so I knew we’d come back and get the win”, Sa’Dullah said. “We’ve done a lot to prepare for this game.”The Anteaters will return to Bren Events Center on Nov. 17, and will be going against Portland University.