By: Stefan Curtis Jones
Photo Provided by UCI Athletics
Though they trailed by 20 points early in the third quarter, the UCI Women’s Basketball team only lost by five points in a 56-51 back-and-forth battle against the Cal State Northridge Matadors at the Bren Events Center on Thursday, Jan. 23.
20 points early in the third quarter, the UCI Women’s Basketball team only lost by five points in a 56-51 back-and-forth battle against the Cal State Northridge Matadors at the Bren Events Center on Thursday, Jan. 23.
CSUN started the game as though they had a bitter taste in their mouths from their loss against Cal State Long Beach in their prior match up.
“We knew it was coming. Practiced it, did it,” said UCI’s head coach Tamara Inoue when admitting their anticipation of CSUN’s start to the game.
Northridge refused to let Irvine have any successful passes as they disrupted Irvine’s offensive passing lanes. The Matadors’ full court press and tight double teams allowed them to start the game on a 6-0 run. UCI’s freshman forward Sophia Locandro ended the run with a layup to put the Anteaters on the scoreboard. Shortly after, UCI’s junior guard Haleigh Talbert stripped the ball and sprinted down the court for an easy layup. Irvine struggled for the rest of the first quarter and finished with a score of 12-6, in favor of the Matadors.
The Anteaters appeared to have a sudden burst of energy to start the second quarter as they matched Northridge’s defensive intensity by playing tighter man-to-man and speeding up their switches.
The Matadors were unfazed as their star redshirt senior forward De’Jionae Calloway performed a mean right shoulder drop-step and laid it in. This put Northridge up 14-8. Calloway put in work on defense as well when she stole the ball and scored while drawing the foul. Her layup and free throw put the Matadors up 17-8. The Anteaters struggled with getting inside shots as the Matadors continued their onslaught and went up 19-8, extending their scoring run to 9-0. UCI was able to get in a few good jumpers before ending the half, trailing CSUN 32-17.
UCI had as many turnovers as they did points in the first half, which were 17. This reflected CSUN’s intense efforts on the defensive end.
“Just challenge them. Challenge them on their competitiveness and what they want, then it’s in their hands at that point,” said Inoue when explaining how she inspired the team after their poor first half performance.
UCI’s defense improved tremendously in the second half. They forced 10 CSUN turnovers and a few travel violations as a result of their increased use of double teams. Their second half success did not end there. After being down by 20 points towards the beginning of the third quarter, rebounds by Locandro, marksman-like three pointers from UCI junior guard Dani Guglielmo and nonstop hustling from Talbert put them on a 10-0 run. Guglielmo’s three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter combined with Talbert’s five free throws weren’t enough to tie the game, and the usual late-game fouls shut down any hopes of UCI getting the lead.
“It’s an interesting year in the Big West. I really believe anyone can win it at the right time,” said Inoue when asked about the trajectory of UCI’s team this year in the Big West Conference.
CSUN is still at the top of the Big West Conference with a conference record of 4-1. Meanwhile, almost half of the conference is tied at two wins. This close seeding implies that like Inoue said, anyone can take that number one spot if the standings remain at a standstill.
The UCI Women’s Basketball team will look to get out of being the No. 8 seed and make up for this close loss with a win on Saturday, Jan. 25 when they return to the Bren to face No. 3 seed Cal State Long Beach.