UCI Women’s Basketball Falls to CSU Bakersfield 61-59 in Big West Tournament First Round Double OT Thriller 

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Photo by Aasha Sendhil/Staff

The UC Irvine Women’s Basketball team (24-6, 16-3) fell in a double overtime thriller to CSU Bakersfield (8-22, 4-17), 61-59, in the first round of the Big West Tournament at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada on Wednesday, March 8. 

Sophomore guard Deja Lee led the Anteaters in scoring with 18 points off the bench. For Bakersfield, Caldwell tallied 19 points and Morris added 18. 

After the game, UCI head coach Tamara Inoue reflected on the team’s perseverance and ability to continue fighting, despite losing three starters earlier in the season due to injury. 

“I’m really proud of what they’ve done this year,” Inoue said. “With my team and what we were able to do this year, losing three starters, all leading scorers at that time, and being able to come together and win these games and win the conference … that’s just a testament to what we’ve done — being the first in school history to ever do something like this, that is incredible.”

The Anteaters struggled early on from the field, shooting a shocking 7-29, or 24%, to open the game. A three-pointer by sophomore guard Nikki Tom tied the game at 3-3, but from that point on it was all Bakersfield in the first quarter. The Roadrunners jumped out to a nine-point lead with two and a half minutes left in the period led by redshirt freshman forward Kayla Morris, who secured the team’s first eight points. The ‘Eaters clawed their way back into the match, closing out the first quarter on a 7-0 run to cut the point deficit to two, 18-16.

The ‘Eaters started off the second quarter with a promising three-point scoring run, establishing their first lead of the game at 21-20. Despite a strong start, the shooting woes continued for both the ‘Eaters and Roadrunners. The ‘Eaters experienced a five-minute scoring drought, but the Roadrunners were only able to capitalize on it with two points. Finally, at the one minute mark in the first half, UCI junior guard Diaba Konate sunk two free throws to end the ‘Eaters scoring drought, 26-23. The ‘Eaters only mustered 10 points in the period and at the end of the half. The score settled at 27-25 in favor of Bakersfield.  

The second half was a much better story for the Anteaters. Lee scored six straight points, giving the Anteaters a five-point advantage, 36-31 — their largest of the game. Capping off a 10-0 run, the ‘Eaters increased defensive pressure and held Bakersfield to only six points in the third quarter. UCI junior forward/center Nevaeh Parkinson added a layup to end the third quarter, giving the ‘Eaters a five-point lead heading into the final period, 38-33. 

The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair as Bakersfield gained a five-point advantage in the scoring column, sending the game into overtime tied at 50-50. This period was dominated by multiple foul calls and shooting droughts, and was heavily dominated by free throws. Bakersfield shot 8-11 from the line and UCI tallied 7-8 from the charity stripe. Lee stepped up for the ‘Eaters, scoring eight points in the period, while redshirt senior guard Taylor Caldwell scored seven points for Bakersfield to help lead the comeback.

Bakersfield struck first in overtime with a putback bucket, and UCI added a free throw by graduate forward Nyagoa Gony, making the score 51-52 in favor of Bakersfield. Both teams exchanged blows until the end of the game when Gony drilled a buzzer-beating floater to tie the game, sending the match into double overtime, 55-55.

The Anteaters capitalized off the momentum and started off the double overtime on a roll. Lee and Tom added two free throws each to put UCI up 59-56. Yet, the momentum didn’t last long as Morris drilled a huge three-pointer for Bakersfield to tie the game at 59-59. Caldwell then added a stepback jumper just as the shot clock expired to give Bakersfield a two-point lead. Irvine inbounded with 20 seconds left to Konate, who drove to the lane and missed the potential game-tying layup with eight seconds remaining. From there, Bakersfield dribbled out the clock for a 61-59 victory. 

Next up, the Anteaters will await their first round National Invitational Tournament (NIT) matchup as an automatic qualifier following their 2023 Big West regular season title, with the selection show held on Sunday, March 12.

Jason Garcia Escobar is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at jasonag3@uci.edu.

James Huston is a Sports Co-Editor. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu.