The UC Irvine Women’s Basketball team (7-6, 2-0) defeated the UC Riverside Highlanders (3-5, 0-2), 59-53, at the Bren Events Center in Irvine on Jan. 8. This win brings their record to a perfect 2-0 for the Big West conference as they sit alongside Long Beach State and UC San Diego.
Much like their victory against UC Davis on Thursday, the Anteaters took their time getting into a rhythm. Both teams displayed poor shots and lapses in focus.
In the first half, Irvine’s offense was uninspired. Players wasted time driving into the midrange just to pass the ball back outside to the perimeter. As the shot clock wound down, the players took tough shots with hands in their face. Off-ball movement was erratic and few screens were set.
The players eventually found their offense despite this lack of tactical advantage, but it wasn’t found effortlessly. Throughout the game, the team accumulated 26 offensive rebounds. Irvine used these more chaotic opportunities to find open shooters and better paths into easy shots.
In contrast to their offensive woes, Irvine’s defense started strong and refused to quit. Sophomore guard Chloe Webb and freshman guard Nikki Tom swarmed and harassed the Highlanders as UCR attempted to set up their offense. The Anteaters’ tenacious hunger for the ball was instrumental in forcing the Highlander’s 25 turnovers.
Going into halftime, the score stood at 30-25, UCI barely ahead.
Still, Highlander senior guard Keilanei Cooper and sophomore guard India Aikins refused to let the game become a rout. They targeted the rim, attacking it using the Anteaters’ aggression to gain space and drive the ball to the basket. Together they shot 65% from the field for 26 total points. The rest of the UCR team shot 37% racking up 27 more points.
As Cooper and Aikins engineered their comeback, Irvine sophomore guard Jayde Cadee stayed consistent at the 3-point line. She lurked in the corner and dished out shot after shot, leaving the Highlanders powerless against her as they were out of position on turnovers and rebounds. All 15 of her points came from downtown as she more than doubled the 3-point output of the entire Riverside team.
Beyond these Cadee strikes, the Anteater offense was slipping as the midpoint of the 4th quarter approached. The Highlanders managed to take back the lead at 47-44 with only seven minutes remaining.
The Anteaters fought their way back methodically, throwing passes with newfound purpose, leaving screens solid and locking in the defense. No driving lanes were given and every Highlander pass was fraught with danger.
Webb made it happen on the offensive end for the ‘Eaters, first by drawing a foul and sinking her free throws, then by hitting a gorgeous midrange jumper and finally sinking a 3 to put the ‘Eaters ahead by five.
Highlander’s Cooper also made a valiant effort to stave Irvine off, to no avail. The Anteaters dribbled out the clock as both teams took late-game free throws.
This game was a gritty and important win that will help shape the character of the Anteater team. Wins like this are the foundation of tough teams, and the ‘Eaters are showing they have what it takes to make some noise come March.
The Anteaters travelled to La Jolla, Calif. to take on the UC San Diego Tritons on Tuesday, Jan. 11 at the RIMAC Arena. Read about it here.
Benjamin Hendricks is a 2021-2022 Sports Staff Writer . He can be reached at email@example.com.