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UCI WBB Secures Much-Needed Victory over CSUN, 64-54

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The UCI Women’s Basketball team (18-8, 13-4) handled the Cal State Northridge Matadors (2-26, 0-18), 64-54, at the Bren Events Center on Feb. 29. UC Irvine found themselves back in the winning column after a heartbreaking overtime loss against UC San Diego, 69-65, on Feb. 24. 

Facing the Matadors for the second time this season, the Anteaters prevailed over CSUN in their Jan. 27 contest, 67-63, in a tightly contested road game.

The ‘Eaters started slow offensively, going 0-4 from the field with a turnover in the opening three minutes of the game. They scored their first basket at the 6:50 mark after senior forward Nevaeh Dean converted on a layup, cutting the gap to 4-3.

Coming off the bench, Anteater freshman guard Shirel Nahum lifted UCI, scoring seven early points. Three of those points came off an and-one bucket after a missed Matador three-pointer led to a Nahum layup through traffic in transition. 

Nahum continued her prolific first quarter, drilling a pull-up jump shot on the baseline to increase the UCI lead to 19-9, forcing a CSUN timeout. 

After the break, the Matadors kept themselves in the game as redshirt junior forward Laney Amundsen knocked down a buzzer-beater triple to cut the deficit to seven points.

In the second quarter, both teams struggled offensively, yet CSUN found a way to cut into the Anteater lead. Redshirt junior guard Rachel Harvey converted on a layup in transition, followed by senior center Arina Nikishina drilling a mid-range jumper to bring the Matadors to within three, 21-18.

The ‘Eaters responded, mounting a 7-0 run to close out the first half. Junior guard Déja Lee made a three-pointer before halftime to put UC Irvine up ahead by 10 once again.

Although UCI struggled with shooting in the first half, the defense limited the CSUN offense to 7-27 (26%) in field goal shooting and 1-4 (25%) in three-point shooting.

The Anteaters changed their starting five for the second half, inserting graduate guard Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba over senior guard Diaba Konate, who did not return to the game due to a knee injury. 

Postgame, UCI head coach Tamara Inoue shared the severity of Konate’s injury.

“[Diaba] told me if I don’t have to play, please don’t play me,” Inoue said in an interview with the New University. “But she is OK to play, we just wanted [her] to rest.” 

CSUN struck first in the third quarter as freshman guard Kaitlyn Elsholz knocked down a jumper from beyond the arc. The ‘Eaters fought CSUN’s flurry, receiving offensive contributions from Lee and junior guard Amelia Scharpf to form their biggest lead of the night of 13 points. 

Sidi Baba played a pivotal role in maintaining the Anteaters’ momentum in the third quarter, getting to the line and finding her groove offensively. She drilled a fadeaway jumper over the Matador defense and attacked the baseline for an easy layup, awarding UCI with a 44-33 advantage late in the quarter. 

However, the Matadors continued to battle, closing the quarter down by single digits, following a layup from redshirt junior forward Talo Li-Uperesa.

UC Irvine opened the fourth quarter with a 7-2 run, capped off by a three-pointer from Lee on the fastbreak following a Scharpf assist, extending the lead to 51-39. CSUN halted the run, retaliating with their own three-pointer from Elsholz.

Both teams traded blows, Scharpf getting a putback layup after a missed Nahum jumper, followed by a Li-Uperesa and-one bucket after getting fouled on her jump shot attempt. UCI increased the gap to 56-45 after Dean knocked down another Anteater triple.

After a media timeout, Nahum converted on a floater from the baseline after beating the Matador defender off the dribble. 

In the closing minute, Anteater senior forward Caiyle Kaupu connected with Lee on the in-bounds play for a dagger layup, putting UC Irvine ahead 60-49 with 44 seconds remaining. The ‘Eaters managed to hold onto the lead, securing the bounce-back win over CSUN, 64-54.

Lee led the way with 20 points and received crucial contributions off the bench from Sidi Baba (14 points) and Nahum (nine points). 

Coach Inoue discussed the importance of Sidi Baba and Nahum for success in the postseason.

“MJ has experience and Shirel has FIBA experience behind her; those two are big factors for our success in the postseason,” Inoue said. “I will be heavily relying on them.”

Lee also discussed the importance of winning this game following the previous game.

“It was all about bouncing back. It was a tough loss at such a critical point but it gave us another opportunity to look at our weak points,” Lee said. “From now on it’s only wins for us!”

The ‘Eaters defeated Long Beach State in overtime, 86-76, on Saturday, March 2 to increase their win streak to two. Next up, the Anteaters will travel to Henderson, Nevada taking home the number two seed in the conference tournament after defeating Cal State Fullerton on Sat. March 9 69-53.

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