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‘Eaters WBB Continue Dominance over LBSU, 69-57, Matchup with UC Davis in Big West Championship Finals 

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The UCI Women’s Basketball team (22-8, 15-4) cruised past the Long Beach State 49ers (15-18, 8-12), 69-57, at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev. on Friday, March 15.

Entering the night, there was a clash in styles. The Anteaters boasted the best scoring defense, allowing only 55.5 PPG, while the 49ers led the conference in scoring offense at 68.3 PPG.

UCI had a change in their starting lineup as graduate guard Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba received the start over junior guard Amelia Scharpf. 

Long Beach State started strong, jumping out to an early four point advantage after an Anteater turnover, leading to a breakaway layup in transition for 49ers junior guard Sydney Woodley.

The Anteaters gathered themselves and sparked a 13-3 run through tenacious defense and ball movement. UCI junior guard and 2023-24 Big West Women’s Player of the Year, Déja Lee, capped off the run, knocking down a triple for three of her seven first quarter points.

The ‘Eaters continued to dominate, forcing a 49er’s timeout after Lee muscled a layup over the defense. They held onto the momentum, closing the first quarter with a 20-9 lead, following Scharpf’s three-pointer.

Long Beach State found their rhythm at the start of the second quarter, as graduate guard Cheyenne Givens converted on a three-point play. Momentum slowly switched to the 49ers side with Lee and senior center Nevaeh Parkinson on the bench due to foul trouble.

Long Beach State capitalized, mounting an 8-3 spurt to cut the deficit down to two when 49ers redshirt junior guard Casey Valenti Paea made a layup before the media timeout. 

After the break, Long Beach State continued to lead after freshman forward Jada Crawshaw converted the go-ahead layup, 29-28. With the offense stagnant, several ’Eaters emerged in the crucial final two minutes of the first half.

Anteater freshman guard Shirel Nahum emerged, drilling a pull jumper to award the lead back to UCI. Junior guard Nikki Tom also joined the party, knocking down her only three-pointer of the game. Sidi Baba was special in that stretch, scoring seven of the final 11 first half points, pivoting her squad ahead at the half, 39-33.

In the postgame conference, Sidi Baba shared her mindset during that run.

“I was just thinking we need a win,” she said. “Whatever I need to do to win, I think about when I’m on the court.”

The opening framed the second half, both teams traded buckets and jockeyed for any advantage to gain a Big West finals spot. UCI edged out Long Beach State, with Parkinson dominating both offensively and defensively. Sidi Baba continued to dominate the 49ers defense, as the Anteaters ballooned the lead to 10 points off a 6-0 spurt.

The ‘Eaters defense ramped up its intensity in the final four minutes of the third quarter, forcing five turnovers. On the other side of the ball, UCI ended the quarter ahead 58-44, off the back of a 12-2 run.

Long Beach State came out of the break in an attempt to save their season with two quick buckets from Paea and junior guard Lovely Sonnier, cutting the lead down to 10 points.

The Anteaters were not deterred, finding their second gear on the defensive side, forcing a scoring drought of over five minutes. UCI ignited a dagger 10-0 run, capped off by a layup from Parkinson, awarding them their biggest lead of the game at 20 points.

The ‘Eaters held onto the lead, winning 69-57 and clinching their spot in the Big West Women’s Basketball Championship Finals.

Sidi Baba finished as the leading scorer with 22 points, with Lee chipping in 12 points. The 49ers were led by Paea with 13 points, and Woodley with 12 points.

Long Beach State’s head coach Amy Wright addressed how her squad could improve next season.

“It’s going to be fun this summer and next year, being in year two,” Wright said during the press conference. “Instead of building a foundation, we can start fine tuning, which is exactly where Irvine is at, in order to get to the NCAA Tournament.” 

Lee commented on the locker room’s collective mindset, knowing that one win separates them from the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995.

“I’m going to have one word and that word is Superwoman,” Lee said in an interview with the New University. 

The Anteaters will take on the UC Davis Aggies on Saturday, March 16 at 3pm PST to determine the 2023-24 Women’s Big West Conference Champion.

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

Edited by James Huston, Annabelle Aguirre, and Laiyla Santillan