The UCI Anteaters went on a three-game winning streak after they defeated Hawaii in a 72-71 victory at the Bren Events Center on Feb. 27.
It was a nerve-wracking game as the score and momentum fluctuated throughout each quarter. The Anteaters started with determination as their defensive efforts from steals, shot contests and turnovers translated directly into points.
“Usually, we are a very defensive-minded team, we try to force every team into turnovers. Bringing that defensive tempo and not letting anyone get anything easy on me even though I’m smaller than [our opponents] is something we try showing the underclassman,” senior Lauren Saiki said.
Hawaii noticed their sluggish plays and soon began to find their rhythm as a team. They began closing in on shooters, which forced UCI to take bad shots. On the offensive end, the Rainbow Wāhine were able to drive to the basket and break through their interior defense.
Even with strong defense in the paint, Hawai’i found multiple ways to score at the basket and at mid-range. The Anteaters fought back in the key as well as by shooting over larger defenders, drawing fouls and getting one on one plays. They fought hard on the boards; out rebounding Hawaii in the first half with five more offensive rebounds.
With both teams battling hard, the Anteaters ended the first half in control with a score of 31-26.
At the start of the third quarter, Hawaii was locked in at the perimeter and took advantage of UCI’s 2-3 zone defense by moving the ball around the three-point line until they freed up a shooter. Hawaii’s senior Julissa Tago became a huge threat in the third quarter when she knocked down four threes.
Hawaii dominated the Anteaters in the third quarter, but UCI proved to be unfazed and made a comeback in the fourth.
The Anteaters went on a 9-0 run to start the fourth and regained the momentum of the game with; excellent ball movement from Saiki’s defensive success, senior Sophia Locandro’s offense locked in and freshman Jayde Cadee’s heavily contested three-pointer, which riled up the crowd.
“Credit to my teammates for always giving me the ball, I’m trying to do everything for them and fortunately for me, [my shots] were dropping,” Locandro said.
With the game coming down to the wire, Saiki pulled off an extraordinary move by driving right to the basket, shaking off defenders with a spin move and then getting off a high arching underhand layup right over two taller defenders in the paint. This increased the lead to 72-69 for the Anteaters.
“I was struggling the whole second half to get a shot to fall. I knew I didn’t want a fadeaway or anything that wasn’t as strong to the basket. I just wanted to be aggressive and try to get a close shot and high-percentage,” Saiki said. “When it went in, I was super excited.”
Down three and in the last possession, Hawaii handed the ball to Tago. Tago — who was fouled in the act of shooting a three — made the first two free-throws, cutting the Anteater lead to 72-71. However, she missed the last crucial shot to tie the game.
The Anteaters ran the clock down to 0.3 seconds. However, they turned the ball over from a bad pass. UCI stayed focused and tipped the inbounding ball, which closed the game 72-71.
Locandro and Saiki both ended the night with a double-double. Locandro had a career-high of 34 points and 11 rebounds while Saiki had 11 points and a season-high of 12 assists.
Saiki has now racked up 189 assists for the year, tying at a single-season school assist record with Lisa Faulkner, who set the record in the 2002-03 season. Saiki only needs one more assist to break the record and lead the single-season assist for UCI.
The Anteaters played their last home game of the season on their Senior Night, at the Bren Events Center on Thursday, Mar. 5.
Aviraj Gokool is a Sports Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.