A three game win streak for the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (5-6) was snapped in a tightly contested affair against Portland State (5-5), 82-72, Saturday afternoon at the Bren Events Center.
The ‘Eaters held the lead for three quarters, including an opening period where they had put up as many as 22 points on the board against their oppositions seven, but the Vikings leaned on their hot outside shooting to come right back by the end of regulation, sending the match into an overtime period in which they would win, 18-8, to steal the victory.
“It was a tough one today,” head coach Tamara Inoue said. “Definitely a great job by Portland State and coach [Lynn] Kennedy…one of our keys was not to let them dictate the speed of [the game] and we let that happen so…it’s unfortunate but this is part of growing [and] part of learning and I think our team will learn from this.”
Portland State’s junior guard Sidney Rielly ignited the Vikings offense, finishing with 30 points on 10-19 shooting (3-9 from three and 7-8 from free throw). Meanwhile, junior guard Ashley Bolston contributed 17 points on 5-13 shooting (7-8 from free throw).
For the ‘Eaters, redshirt sophomore guard Yazzy Sa’Dullah led the way with 13 points on 5-12 shooting as senior forward Sabrina Engelstad added 10 points on 4-8 shooting. Redshirt sophomore guard Lauren Saiki had six points to go along with five assists and four steals.
UCI’s balanced attack, one that they have already shown through their first 10 games of the season, was in full swing as 12 players stepped on the floor with three registering nine points a piece and nine recording at least a basket.
“Getting in the game and contributing is the most important part and I think our team from one through 13 does that,” coach Inoue said. “I could start any one of our players on any given day.”
It was a total team effort right from the opening tip for UCI as 10 different ‘Eaters saw action within the first five minutes of regulation, six of which scored at least a basket before the end of the period.
“I could go five in and five out all day,” coach Inoue said of her confidence in her long lineup. “I like to give players [their] rhythms too…so you have to have some kind of sensitivity to that but I think early on going five in five out…gets everybody in there and gets their feet wet in game time situations.”
While Portland State sat in a zone, the ‘Eaters barreled into the cracks where they found a vast majority of their success in the painted area, converting 50 percent of their overall attempts to put up 22 first-period points.
Defensively, UCI scattered the floor and pressured the Vikings high on the full court. Unable to set up a string of looks, Portland State was held to just 7.7 percent shooting.
“I thought our team did a great job of just quickly running things,” coach Inoue said. “We set the tone pretty early…but slowing [our opposition] down is something we need to work on.”
Portland State battled back from their slow first quarter start, however, nearly doubling the ‘Eaters’ scoring, 15-8, in the second to cut the deficit to eight, 30-22, at the half.
The Vikings came out and shot the lights out in third with Rielly draining two triples within the first four minutes to bring the ‘Eaters’ edge down to four, 36-32. With 3:24 remaining, Portland Stake took their first lead, 39-38, since a two-point advantage that they had taken on their first possession of the game. Portland State witnessed what would be their best shooting quarter on the afternoon
In spite of their run, UCI stinted the Vikings’ momentum on a triple from junior guard Andee Ritter that handed the lead right back to the home team. Ritter would go on to hit another triple while Engelstad finished a few feeds into the key to create a seven point gap, 51-44, heading into the fourth.
In the final period, the ‘Eaters went up by 10 on two occasions, the last of which came on a pair of free throws from freshman guard Haleigh Talbert with 2:36 left to play.
Portland State would not go away, charging with a 7-2 run that was capped off by a triple to bring the Vikings within three, 62-59.
Forced to foul the ‘Eaters, the Vikings sent Engelstad to the line with 15 seconds to go, where she would miss two costly shots. Collectively, free throws would come back to haunt the ‘Eaters as the team finished 13-22 from the line, missing four of their last six shots in the fourth.
“You can go down the stat line and see where we lost,” coach Inoue said of the team’s free throw shooting. “Shooting free throws… those are guaranteed for us. I like the pressure that we put on ourselves…not warranted pressure that I like to see all the time, but I think that pressure of having to make shots and having to do certain things is a good thing for us, we just got to learn how to finish those and we just didn’t do that today.”
On the missed free throw and rebound, Reilly took the ball into the heart of the ‘Eaters defense, converted the basket, and drew a foul that she would knock down to knot the game right back up.
As she had done on three separate occasions on the season already, the game fell into the hands of redshirt junior guard Deijah Blanks.
And again, receiving the ball with 12 seconds to spare, Blanks drove to the hole and converted an up and under to give UCI a two point lead.
“Basketball Gods are good to you but they are fair,” coach Inoue said. “Deijah, once again, hit that [shot] but I think we might have celebrated a little too early to get back and defend.”
Indeed, Reilly went on to spoil what would have been another Blanks’ classic, getting off a mid-ranger shot on the baseline in the knick of time to force an extra five minutes where the ‘Eaters subsequently caught some foul trouble and the Vikings would seal the game on the line, 82-72.
“It’s just back to the drawing board again but I’m still very encouraged by my team,” coach Inoue said. “I’ve got a good young group of players that really play hard and it’s just that we’ve got to figure out the timing and combinations, which is more on me and my staff.”
Saturday’s matchup was the first for the ‘Eaters since Dec. 9th, as the squad’s schedule eased up in lieu of finals week.
The ‘Eaters will now look forward to next Tuesday, Dec. 19, when they host Chapman (5-0) before heading on the road to face Seattle University (6-5) on Friday, Dec. 22 and future Big West member CSU Bakersfield (4-6) on Sunday, Dec. 31.