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Lockdown Defensive Performance Powers UCI Past UCSB, 60-38

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The UCI Women’s Basketball team (14-7, 9-3) defeated the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (14-8, 8-4), 60-38, at the Bren Events Center on Feb. 8. Their dominant performance came following a road loss in their previous matchup against the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine, 43-55.

UCSB entered the night a game ahead of the Anteaters for second place in the Big West standings. The matchup presented a clash in styles as the dominant UC Irvine defense faced off against the best offense in the conference, shooting 42% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc.

The ‘Eaters opened the game strong defensively, forcing an 0/4 shooting performance and a turnover in the first five UCSB possessions. UCI capitalized on the momentum, scoring two layups from junior guard Déja Lee and senior forward Nevaeh Dean.

The Anteaters sustained their quick start, turning a missed Gauchos three-pointer into a fastbreak layup for junior guard Amelia Scharpf. Heading into the media timeout, the Anteaters held an early 6-0 advantage.

Out of the break, junior center Laurel Rockwood drilled a ten-foot jumper to put the Gauchos on the board. The ‘Eaters struck back as freshman guard Shirel Nahum took a steal coast-to-coast for a layup over the UCSB defense.

Gaucho sharpshooter, senior forward Alexis Whitfield, knocked down a three-pointer to cut into the UCI lead, 8-5. 

Later in the quarter, UC Santa Barbara lost their second-leading scorer, senior guard Alyssa Marin, who held a 12.4 points per game avg prior to facing off against UCI, after an elbow from UCI senior center Nevaeh Parkinson caused a mild concussion. The officials upgraded Parkinson’s offensive foul to an intentional foul, rewarding UCSB with two free-throws and possession. 

Gaucho sophomore guard Jessica Grant knocked down both free-throws and drilled a mid-range jumper to cut the UCI lead to one. UC Irvine responded with an and-one from Nahum and forced another turnover to finish the quarter ahead 13-9.

In the second quarter, the Anteater offense found enough offensive rhythm, outscoring the Gauchos 8-4 in the opening seven minutes. UCI graduate guard/forward Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba spearheaded the run, attacking the UCSB defense off the dribble and soaring to the rim for the 21-14 lead.

After a Gaucho timeout, Whitfield found a cutting Rockwood for an easy two. The ‘Eaters refused to relinquish their momentum as Scharpf knocked down a corner three the following possession. The quarter came to a close after Anteater senior guard Diaba Konate sunk a pull-up jumper to beat the buzzer, ballooning the UC Irvine lead to 28-19 at the half. 

UCI’s defense showed up early, holding the top three-point shooting team in the conference to 27%. 

The ‘Eaters maintained their first-half intensity, opening the third quarter with a 6-0 run to force another Gaucho timeout. 

UC Irvine’s momentum could not be stopped as the team clicked on both sides of the ball. A 5-1 spurt extended as Nahum crossed through the Gaucho defense for an easy look at the rim, much to the delight of the ‘Eater faithful. Sidi Baba then capped the run, connecting on a three-pointer to increase the gap to 39-20.

UC Santa Barbara closed the quarter on a Whitfield three, hoping to mount a late comeback in the final quarter, trailing 44-27. Yet again, the Anteaters rose to the occasion, responding with a massive 10-3 run to hold off UCSB. The run was cemented with a Nahum corner three, followed by a Lee three-pointer.

With excellent performances off the bench, Nahum and Sidi Baba with 10 points each, helped lead the ‘Eaters to a bounce-back victory over the Gauchos, 60-38.

In a postgame interview with the New University, both scoring leaders spoke about their offensive contributions off the bench. 

“We have one of the best benches,” Sidi Baba said. “We have a really good connection right now.”

Nahum echoed her sentiment.

“I know to bring the energy and play for the team,” Nahum said.

The defense of the Anteaters was another key to victory, containing the surging Gaucho offense to 28% from beyond the arc and 27% cumulatively from the field. Most importantly, the ‘Eater defense limited Whitfield to under double figures scoring. 

UCI head coach Tamara Inoue addressed whether her unit’s defense is where it needs to be at this stage of the season.    

“Today it was,” Inoue said in an interview with the New University . “They did a good job of listening to the scout [report] and understanding what we were doing.”

Sidi Baba reflected on the team’s defense intensity.

“After our last game, we emphasized the scout and ‘getting it through the mud’,” she said. “We’re confident in our defense and what we can do.”

On a night when key offensive players Lee and junior guard Nikki Tom were not their usual efficient selves, the team found a way to win through a collective effort on offense and maintaining high defensive intensity.

The ‘Eaters seek to continue their momentum, hosting the UC Riverside Highlanders at home on Feb. 10 at the Brens Event Center. 

Donnell Fuller is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at ddfuller@uci.edu.


Edited by James Hutson, Jaheem Conley and Laiyla Santillan