The UCI Women’s Basketball team Anteaters (7-5) are perched at the top of the Big West standings at 4-0 — the first time since the 1994-95 season — after their overtime offensive showcase over the Cal Poly Mustangs (5-5, 1-3) on Jan 23. A floor-shattering performance led by redshirt freshman guard Kayla Williams drained the hope of the Mustangs, swishing nets like a walking bucket to cap off the night with a career-high 32 points, stunning the Mustangs 79-70 at Cal Poly’s Mott Athletics Center.
The game tipped off with a strong start by the Anteaters, hitting a perfect 5-5 — Williams scoring 8/10 of those points — and up 10-2 in just the first two minutes of the game. The Mustangs responded with a hot start of their own for an 8-2 run to close the gap, trailing behind 10-12.
Senior guard Dani Guglielmo and Williams responded as they both led the Anteaters’ metamorphosis into the 2016 Golden State Warriors in the first minutes. Williams looked like Steph Curry airing it out at three-point range to maintain their lead at 21-14 to end the first quarter.
During the initial quarter, the ‘Eaters shot 57% from downtown and 62% from the field. Not only did their shots translate to a quick lead, but their ball-handling also excelled as they only committed one turnover the entire quarter.
On the other hand, the Mustangs inversely suffered due to their poor ball handling, committing six turnovers in the first quarter — easy points taken by the Anteaters.
The turnover woes for the Mustangs continued with another six in the second quarter, then the Anteaters began to rake in seven of their own which helped keep the Mustangs in the game. The offensive assault continued on both sides to close out the half with UCI controlling the lead throughout the whole game, 35-28.
However, UCI’s defense took a huge step back, blowing a 14 point lead in the middle of the third quarter to close out at 55-45 after tipping off the first half 35-28. The game came even closer through the fourth, with UCI down one at 64-63 with only 37 seconds left after a huge splash from Williams.
The Anteaters final possession hit a stroke of good luck when freshman guard Chloe Webb (9 points, 10 rebounds) was fouled at 7.9 seconds, hitting one of her two free-throws to send the game into overtime, 64-64.
Coming at the expense of solid defense, UCI ignited their offensive onslaught one last time. The groove of Williams and sophomore forward Sofia Locandro (11 points on 5-7 shooting) forced the Mustangs to kick it into high gear which ultimately fell flat. With such a strong offensive spurt, UCI found rhythm shooting 60% from the field and 48% from the three. The ‘Eaters outscored the Mustangs 15-6 in overtime and obtained a final score of 79-70.
Cal Poly was led by freshman Natalia Ackerman (15 points, 10 rebounds) and senior Mustang star Sierra Campisano (13 points, 11 rebounds), both earning double-doubles. Although UCI’s defense simmered out, they pressured the Mustangs into heaving up bad shots for most of the game as they were 41% from the floor and 6-14 beyond the arc.
The heated competition forced the Anteaters to remain resilient against the Mustang’s momentum, an attribute of the team’s play that head coach Tamara Inoue recognized.
“We didn’t hang our heads and let them take it from us,” Coach Inoue said. “We made sure we took it back.”
Williams was the talk of the night, as her statline recorded the second-highest points by an Anteater since Sophia Locandro’s monster 34 point game against Hawaii on Feb. 27, 2020. The redshirt freshman’s ability to catch and shoot played a pivotal role in the Anteaters’ success, but it was not to be outshined by her ability to facilitate the offense, putting up 5 dimes as the freshman continues to lead her team in assists this season.
Inoue had high praise for her guard after she drained the clutch three that set up UCI’s overtime victory.
“She loves and breathes those big moments,” Inoue said. “She just wants to win and that is a big piece to why she’s so successful.”
More notably, there has not been a single overtime game over the last two seasons. UCI has now played in two of them, a sign that the team may be having a bit of difficulty closing out their opponents. Maintaining a lead might be one of the focal points for the Anteaters to prepare for in their next game.
“We have to lock in and I thought we were just hoping to survive instead of actually taking over,” Inoue said. “But I thought we did a good job finishing the game tonight.”
The Anteaters prepare for yet another Big West game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Friday, Jan. 29 at 4 p.m. at the Bren Events Center.
Jaidee Maximo Villaflor is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.