Fresh off receiving a Big West Player of the Week nod, junior guard Morgan Green may be making a case for monthly honors, continuing to stay hot during week three of conference play.
After averaging 28 points—logging a career high 31 followed by a 25 point outing—to help lead the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (11-8, 3-2) to two consecutive victories, Green poured in a team-high 24 points on 8-14 shooting from the floor against Cal Poly last Thursday, marking the third straight game in which she had logged 20 points or more.
But with the night ending in a narrow 79-76 loss to the Mustangs, a backbreaker in which the ‘Eaters had given up a 10-point lead and were rendered scoreless in the last three minutes of regulation, Green has been careful to note that the personal accolades are null, especially compared to the sheer joy she has for competing, namely for the team’s success.
“Honestly, I don’t play basketball for those types of things,” Green said. “I play basketball because it’s a team sport and it’s very fun for me…and that’s what I get the most kick out of. The individual accolades come along the way, but most importantly it’s about getting the wins.”
Back in action two days following their upsetting loss to Cal Poly, the former Michigan State Spartan got what she desired with a 70-66 victory over Hawai’i (8-11, 1-5) at the Bren Events Center. Putting up 27 points to command the ‘Eaters’ offense, there was no question that she was having some fun all along the way. And with concerns for individual prizes or not, the by-products of such collective success are surely to follow for Green and as well as for her team moving forward through the highly competitive Big West.
“She can get through anybody and get by anyone…double, triple screens,” coach Inoue said. “They really focus on Morgan…so it’s just nice because she really does open up [opportunities] for our team.”
The offense may have forged ahead with Green leading the way, but Saturday’s game also saw great performances and promise out of UCI’s starting true freshmen in Tahlia Garza and Jordan Sanders.
Garza, who has struggled through some growing pains in her rookie campaign, reached her logged her first consecutive double digit scoring on the season with 10 points against the Rainbow Wahine after scoring 11 at San Luis Obispo and was also just one rebound short of claiming her second career double-double.
Sanders contributed 13 points, five rebounds, and two steals in 27 minutes of action. The Springfield, Missouri native has started in all 18 of the games she has played in, hitting double digit scoring on seven of those 18 occasions.
“She is a phenomenal player,” coach Inoue said of Sanders. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that she is a freshman because my demand is so high on her cause I know how good [she can be]…but she is doing a fantastic job for us and we’re real excited about Jordan for the future too.”
UCI took a slight three-point advantage, 32-29, heading into the half after each team-traded basket for basket in a back and forth stretch where neither team lead by more than four.
Green, who posted 13 of the ‘Eaters’ 32 points in the first half, opened the second half with a triple. The three ball fanned the flames as sophomore guard Lauren Saiki knocked down a jumper and Sanders followed that up with another triple to push the ‘Eaters out front by 11, 40-29, less than two minutes into the period.
The ‘Eaters also got Hawai’i into foul trouble, reaching the bonus with 6:25 remaining in the period. A pair of free throws from Green would cap the quarter off with UCI up by 17, 60-43.
Almost identical to the situation in Cal Poly, the fourth quarter became a lesson of composure and discipline as the ‘Eaters turned over the ball 10 times in the final period, allowing the Rainbow Wahine to threaten a late rally.
Hawai’i turned the tide and went on an 18-8 run to erase the ‘Eaters hefty lead to seven, 68-61, with a little over two and a half remaining in regulation.
Showing full court pressure, Hawai’i’s redshirt junior guard Tia Kanoa, who finished with a team high 19 points to go along with nine rebounds, came up with a big steal and drained a triple to bring the Rainbow Wahine within three, 69-66, with a minute left to spare.
Out of a time-out, however, UCI learned from their mistakes from the last close call, holding out for a clean shot attempt, playing solid defense to force a costly turnover out of Hawai’i, before managing the clock and sealing the game at the line, 70-66.
“I thought we did a great job of stepping up and grabbing a good lead [in the third],” coach Inoue said. “Obviously we have to learn how to keep the lead and I think that’s the biggest struggle with our team right now. We just have to learn from it and I think that we did a good job [tonight], seeing that at Cal Poly, we had a lead and then we just lost…I’m seeing improvement and that’s all I can ask for.”
Saturday’s victory over the Rainbow Wahine hands the ‘Eaters their first season series sweep over Hawai’i since 1995. Additionally, the win moves UCI to 3-2 in conference play, tying their best start in five years since also going 3-2 in the 2011-12 campaign.
The ‘Eaters are up for another pair of Thursday and Saturday matches in this upcoming week, first traveling to UC Riverside for a 7p.m. tip before returning home to host CSUN at 2p.m.