In the process of rising to second place in Big West standings, the UC Irvine women’s basketball team (13-8, 5-2) has been out on a tour to uproot some historically poor rap sheets that the program has witnessed in the past few seasons.
After snapping five game winless droughts against Hawai’i, Santa Barbara, and Riverside, the ‘Eaters turned another page in the books against CSUN (11-10, 4-3) with a 56-47 victory Saturday afternoon at the Bren Events Center.
The win helps the ‘Eater’s close in on their all-time series matchup with the Matadors, one in which they are still trailing, 24-28.
Saturday afternoon’s victory was also won by a major push in the fourth quarter, a period that head coach Tamara Inoue cites as being a time where the team has known to struggle this season.
“I was talking to our team at shoot around saying that our fourth quarter has been our worst quarter for a very long time in conference,” coach Inoue said. “Today, you can tell it was the quarter where we stepped up to play.”
In the final 10 minutes of regulation, the ‘Eaters went 50 percent from the floor and outscored their opposition, 17-7 after leading by just one (40-39) at the start of the period.
Meanwhile, the ‘Eaters constant full court pressure bothered the Matadors as they committed nine of their 19 turnovers in the fourth and was also held to just 17.6 shooting—their lowest efficiency on the night.
“It always starts on the defensive end,” coach Inoue said. “Our energy and our fire come from that side. We never stopped [in the fourth]. I know it gets tedious and tough on my players but by staying in that press, it helps us finish it off at the end of the game and I thought our players did a great job.”
Freshman Jordan Sanders played a large part in fueling the fourth quarter push and closed out the night with a double double 25 points—a new career high—and 11 boards.
“It’s an unbelievable line tonight [for Jordan] and we’re so proud of her,” coach Inoue said.
Sanders also excelled defensively, picking off three steals and turning away four shots.
Junior Morgan Green kept her consecutive double-digit scoring streak alive, finishing the afternoon with 16 points and also had seven assists without a single turnover.
“Morgan not only could score but she dished out seven with zero turnovers and that’s tremendous,” coach Inoue said.”
In a game now dominated by guards, CSUN’s Channon Fluker continued to prove that centers are still a force to be reckoned with.
Fluker was a handful for the ‘Eaters, giving CSUN 25 points and 15 rebounds—her 12th double double on the year.
The third year center has earned four weekly conference honors this season and has already tied a conference record for overall career nods at 11.
“We knew she was going to get a lot of points and…rebounds,” coach Inoue said. “Our [plan] was to just limit as much touches as we could.”
The contest moved slowly to start. Forced to work the clock in the face of zone defenses coming from both ends, neither team shot above 47 percent.
UCI made their sparing chances count, however, taking a slight 9-5 lead with 4:32 remaining in the opening period. Shooting through the gaps of the Matador offense, Green got off on a run, converting on three consecutive possessions for UCI to further the distance, 16-9.
While UCI had some mild success containing Fluker to start, the 6’4’’ Pasadena Calif. native took over in the second. Fluker got to the line five times—converting eight of her 10 attempts—and muscled up three baskets to put up 14 points to tie the match right up going into the half, 26-26.
In the third, neither team managed to separate themselves by more than a margin of one or two, but foul troubles stalled the ‘Eaters and allowed the Matadors to go on a seven point swing that they used to take what would be their largest lead of the contest at five, 38-33.
Sanders answered for UCI on back-to-back jumpers and a coast-to-coast attempt from Green earned her free throws in which she drained to get the ‘Eaters within one.
Trailing by one at the start of the final 10 minutes of regulation, Sanders continued to find her touches, knocking down three jumpers on an 8-0 ‘Eaters run to earn a 47-40 lead.
The spark during fourth periods have flickered out on occasion for the ‘Eaters, but on the afternoon, the intensity stayed ablaze.
“We just played hard,” Sanders said of the fourth quarter run. “We pushed it…tried to get stops…took care of the ball and did well defensively.”
Limiting Fluker’s opportunities and holding her to four points in the final period—eight in the second half—the ‘Eaters shut the Matadors down defensively.
On a clutch triple from sophomore guard Yazzy Sa’Dullah, the ‘Eaters took a double-digit lead, 52-42, that they would use to eventually ice the game.
“We have so much ahead of us,” Sanders said. “We have a lot of great players and we play together very well so I think we have a really bright future.”
UCI will visit Cal State Fullerton Wednesday, Jan. 31 for a 7p.m. start.