By: Stefan Curtis Jones
Photo Provided by UCI Athletics
The UCI Women’s Basketball team defeated Loyola Marymount University 80-65 on Nov. 19 at the Bren Events Center after not having played them in three years.
The Anteaters integrated tight defense the first half and carried over their success into the second half after being led by senior guard Luaren Saiki’s offensive outburst.
“We always know that our pressure on defense is always going to rattle teams and we try to capitalize on that,” said Saiki when explaining the aggressive defensive play in the first half.
The Anteaters looked hungry to get the ball back on defense, forcing several shot clock violations and 10 second backcourt violations throughout the span of the first half. UCI freshman guard Chloe Webb was at the forefront, playing a tight man-to-man defense and forcing missed shots and turnovers. Saiki did not let her 0-3 shooting in the first half slow her down as she sprinted back on defense after a missed shot and blocked a three-point attempt during the first quarter. The Anteaters also applied lockdown full-court press and regained possession multiple times.
Junior guard Haleigh Talbert of UCI controlled the pace of the game in the second quarter. She slowed the game down and created better shot opportunities by screening off ball and being the go-to shooter when coming off a switch. Talbert’s efficient offensive play in the second quarter was complemented by the rest of the team’s defense in the paint. They contested nearly every shot taken down low by Loyola and interrupted Loyola’s offense repeatedly, causing them to have 22 turnovers at the end of the first half.
“Giving me that trust … it helps me play harder,” said Saiki when describing what influenced her 6-9 shooting in the second half that led to her finishing the game with 20 points.
Saiki and UCI junior forward Jordan Sanders found their stride in the second half as they traded baskets to add onto their team’s lead. Saiki ended her scoring drought immediately after the third quarter began and drained a three-pointer to give UCI a 54-48 lead. Webb followed with a made three-pointer of her own for the Anteaters soon after.
Once Saiki made another three-pointer, Sanders crossed over, drove left and hit a stepback mid-range jumper. Sanders continued this domination as she went on to block a layup attempt from Loyola’s freshman guard/forward Ciera Ellington.
The Loyola Lions tried to slowly chip away at the Anteaters’ lead as the fourth quarter neared its end, but Saiki’s deep-range three-pointer coupled with Sanders’ final two made free-throws increased their lead to 18. The three final free-throws from Loyola’s sophomore guard/forward Naomi Yim wasn’t enough to help the Lions.
The Anteaters will try and extend their winning streak to three games on Friday, Nov. 29 as they will face off against the Denver Pioneers in the Denver Thanksgiving Classic.