The UC Irvine Women’s Basketball team (25-6,16-2) earned their first postseason victory in history, defeating the San Diego State Aztecs (23-11,12-6) 55-45 in the first round of the women’s National Invitation Tournament (NIT) on March 17.
The Anteaters were led by sophomore guard Déja Lee with 18 points, while the Aztecs were led by senior guard Mercedes Staples who finished with 16. The ‘Eater defense held the Aztecs to 28.6% shooting from the field and 20.8% from beyond the arc.
A three-pointer by Lee gave the Anteaters their first lead at 3-2. However, after a 7-0 Aztec scoring run, the lead was handed to SDSU, 11-5. The first quarter was largely a back-and-forth affair, with a three-pointer by UCI graduate student forward Nyagoa Gony cutting the Aztecs’ lead to three, 15-12, by the end.
An and-one layup from UCI sophomore guard Nikki Tom started off the second quarter, tying the game at 17. A jumper by Lee helped the ‘Eaters regain the momentum, followed by a three-pointer by UCI sophomore guard Ameilia Scharpf, capping off an 8-0 Anteater run, 22-19.
A 6-0 run by the Aztecs capped off by a layup from Staples gave them control of the scoreboard, 25-22. Both teams traded baskets until a Lee three-pointer gave the ‘Eaters a 28-27 advantage going into the break.
At the break, Staples led the Aztecs with seven points while Lee had 13 for the ‘Eaters. The Aztecs were held to 12-33 (36.4%) from the field and 2-10 (20%) shooting from beyond the arc, while the ‘Eaters were shooting 11-23 (48.7%) from the field and 4-7 (57.1%) from three.
A three-pointer by Staples to start the third gave the Aztecs a two point lead. A layup from Scharpf and a three-pointer by Tom gave the advantage back to UCI, 33-30. A 7-0 run from the Anteaters gave them a five point advantage. Following five quick points for the Aztecs, two free throws from Konate gave UCI a 43-37 lead to end the third quarter.
A three-pointer by Scharpf increased the UCI lead to six to start the fourth. Still, the Aztecs fought back, as a three by Staples cut the ‘Eaters lead to five, 48-43. The comeback attempt came too little too late, as a bucket from Lee and a layup from UCI junior forward/center Nevaeh Parkinson gave the ‘Eaters a seven point advantage, 52-45 with just over a minute left. The Aztecs were forced to play the foul game, and the ‘Eaters made their free throws late, running away with a 55-45 victory.
After the game, UCI head coach Tamara Inoue spoke about how much fun she’s had coaching her team this year. She relayed her admiration for the team’s resilience, despite losing three starters due to injury earlier in the year.
“This is a special team,” Inoue said. “It’s so much fun coaching them and I don’t want it to stop. Every year, you have a new team, something different, so I only get to coach this team once, and I’m enjoying every moment.”
With this victory, the Anteaters will face the University of San Diego Toreros in the second round of the NIT at 6 p.m. on March 20.
James Huston is a Sports Co-Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.