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UCI WBB Closes out UCR, 62-53

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The UCI Women’s Basketball team (15-7, 10-3) defeated the UC Riverside Highlanders (12-11, 7-6), 62-53, on Feb. 10 at the Bren Events Center. In the teams’ previous matchup, the Anteaters defeated the Highlanders on the road, 67-52, in the 2023-24 Big West Opener.

Entering the matchup, Highlander senior guard Jordan Webster was averaging 17.9 points per game as the top scorer in the Big West Conference, providing a challenge for UC Irvine’s defense. 

The ‘Eaters opened the game with a corner three-pointer from junior guard Amelia Scharpf to put UCI ahead. UC Riverside senior forward Matehya Bryant responded with two quick layups, giving the Highlanders the upperhand, 4-3.

Early in the first quarter, Anteater senior guard Diaba Konate picked up her second foul and did not return until the start of the third quarter. In her absence, her teammates rose to the occasion, battling and trading the lead with the Highlanders early on. Junior guard Déja Lee drilled a ten-foot jumper to give UC Irvine the early advantage, 9-6.

The Highlanders remained persistent as sophomore guard Makayla Jackson converted on a wide open corner three to put UC Riverside ahead, 13-11. UCI senior center Nevaeh Parkinson tied the game on the next possession off a Lee assist.

After the Parkinson layup, Webster took the ball coast-to-coast for an easy layup before the ‘Eaters could set up on defense. Down the stretch of the quarter, UCI’s defense struggled to execute, making uncharacteristic mistakes. In the closing minute of the first, Jackson hit another wide open triple, putting the Highlanders ahead by three.

Before the time expired, Lee tied the game at 18, knocking down a much needed three-pointer heading into the second quarter.

The Anteaters opened the second quarter with a 14-5 flurry led by graduate guard Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba. She found a cutting senior forward Nevaeh Dean after making a spin move off the defender for a layup. 

UCI head coach Tamara Inoue discussed the adjustment period of inserting Sidi Baba into the lineup and her importance to their success.

“MJ came in banged up. She didn’t have a summer with us or much of a preseason,” Inoue said in an interview with the New University. “In the last two weeks she hasn’t missed a practice and our players are feeling more confident with her out there.”

The run was capped off with junior guard Nikki Tom blowing by the defender for an easy layup at the rim, ballooning the lead to 32-23 and forcing a Highlander timeout.

After the break, UC Riverside sparked their own run to close the gap as Bryant converted on a free-throw line jumpshot. Bryant continued to lead the charge, finding her way to the rim for two more layups to cut the deficit to 33-29. 

Parkinson responded back with a hook shot layup over the top of the UCR defense. Yet, the Highlanders remained persistent, closing the quarter down three after fifth-year guard RyAnne Walters knocked down a deep triple.

UC Irvine slowed down Webster to build a nine-point cushion in the first half, but allowed the rest of the Highlanders to find their rhythm as they shot 48% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc.

The ‘Eaters opened the third quarter with Dean knocking down a mid-range jumpshot.

Dean detailed the importance of her aggressiveness and confidence on both sides of the floor for her squad.

“[The aggressiveness] gives us a lot of energy,” Dean said in an interview with the New University. “It doesn’t even have to be me, somebody else can be aggressive and it’s exciting and lifts our energy up.”

The energy was contagious as Konate scored her first and only basket of the game after being limited to two and a half minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Lee followed that up, drilling a jumper to increase the lead to 41-38.

The Highlander’s grit continued to show as junior guard Jaden Sanderson tied the game, finishing an and-one opportunity after being fouled on a baseline jumpshot. UCR later regained the lead and reached their game-high four-point lead after Jackson got a wide-open lane to the rim for two. 

Dean scored the last bucket of the quarter, muscling her way through the defense to put UCI within one score to enter the final quarter.

The fourth quarter started much as how the previous quarter ended as Dean knocked down another jumper to tie the game at 45.

Mid-quarter, the ‘Eaters sparked another run led by Lee. She finished two layups that put her squad ahead 57-48, with a minute and a half left in the game.

UC Irvine closed out the game, winning 62-53, led by Lee with 15 points and six assists and Dean, who added 13 points.      

Lee shared her offensive mindset in a postgame interview with the New University.

“Distribute and move the ball,” Lee said. “There have been times where we struggled offensively, so trying to move the ball side-to-side and be there for my teammates.”

The ‘Eaters held the conference’s top scorer, Webster, to a 4/17 shooting performance and the entire Highlanders team to 35% shooting from the field and 33% from the perimeter. 

Coach Inoue discussed the defensive game plan against Webster.

“We completely focused on her,” Inoue said. “Even if our bigs were switching, they were switching high. We rather give up twos than threes.’

UCI finds themselves on a two-game winning streak and tied for first in the Big West following Hawai’is loss to UC Davis.

The ‘Eaters will seek to increase their streak to three games when they travel to Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday, Feb. 17.

Donnell Fuller is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at 

Edited by James Huston, Jaheem Conley and Laiyla Santillan