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HomeSportsBasketball‘Eaters WBB Outlast UC Davis, 53-39, Punch Ticket to March Madness

‘Eaters WBB Outlast UC Davis, 53-39, Punch Ticket to March Madness

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The UCI Women’s Basketball team (23-8, 16-4) defeated the UC Davis Aggies (20-14, 13-7), 53-39, at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev. on Saturday, March 16. In the regular season, the teams split the series, with both winning a game on their home floor.

The Anteaters jumped out to a quick start, establishing an early double-digit lead off the back of a 10-0 run. UCI graduate guard Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba was instrumental in the run, converting on a three-point play after drawing a foul on a layup attempt.

The ‘Eaters started strong defensively, containing a prolific three-point shooting team to 17% shooting from beyond the arc, along with forcing four turnovers.

After the media timeout, Aggie junior guard Tova Sabel drilled a three-pointer, followed by senior guard Evanne Turner pulling up from the free-throw line to knock down a jump shot.

The first quarter ended with both teams trading baskets as UCI found themselves ahead 16-9 with a layup from senior forward Nevaeh Dean.

In the second quarter, the Aggies battled back into the game, turning up their intensity on both sides of the ball. An 8-0 run turned a 10-point lead for the Anteaters into a one-point advantage. Former Anteater and current Aggie redshirt sophomore guard Victoria Baker was at the forefront, providing the Aggies with a spark on the defensive end and converting a layup to cut the deficit to 18-17.

UCI junior guard Déja Lee ended the UC Davis run, knocking down a layup after pump-faking the defender. The first half came to a close after Turner beat the buzzer with a fastbreak layup after an Anteater turnover, cutting the UCI lead to 21-19 heading into halftime.

After a spectacular first quarter, UCI struggled offensively, shooting 13% from the field in the second quarter and turning the ball over seven times, translating into six points for the Aggies.

Out of the halftime break, the ‘Eaters came out rejuvenated, igniting a 9-0 run off the back of increased defensive intensity. During the run, Anteater senior guard Diaba Konate ripped the ball away from an Aggie player, translating to an easy bucket for Lee at the rim.

At the press conference, UCI head coach Tamara Inoue discussed her message to the team in the locker room during halftime.

“[There was] a lot of swearing,” Inoue said. “We were [making mistakes on] things that [UC Davis is] good at…but at the end of the day I believe in this program and this team.”

During the next offensive possession, UCI junior guard Nikki Tom pulled up from the top of the arc to drill a three-pointer, putting the ‘Eaters ahead, 30-19, and forcing a UC Davis timeout.

The Anteaters could not be stopped, continuing to dominate the game in every facet as Konate knocked down a triple to beat the buzzer. She continued her stellar play, converting on a jump shot from below the free-throw line and extending the Anteater run to 15-2.

After seven and a half minutes, UC Davis scored their first basket of the second half when Sabel finished a layup at the rim. Yet, UCI was unfazed, ending the quarter with a 6-0 run off the back of two three-pointers from Lee, enlarging the lead to 44-23.

Turner opened up the fourth quarter knocking down two triples, trying to get her team back into the game. UCI did not relinquish their momentum as Johnson Sidi Baba continued to find a way to the line, sinking two dagger free-throws to put the game out of reach at 53-29.

The ‘Eaters held onto the lead despite a late 10-0 run from UC Davis — winning the game, 53-39, and their first Big West Championship since 1995. Lee finished the game with 21 points and was awarded with the 2023-24 Big West Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.

Lee shared how special the moment was during the postgame press conference.

“It means everything [for us] because we’ve been working hard all season,”Lee said. “I’m proud of the way we bounced back and learned from every game and the way we executed and figured it out in the second half.”  

Coach Inoue echoed her sentiment.

“I can’t be proud enough of this program and of this team to [win the Big West],” Inoue said. 

With the win, the UCI Women’s Basketball team secured their spot in the Women’s NCAA Tournament. The team will host a selection party at the UCI Newkirk Alumni Center on Sunday, March 17 at 5 p.m. where they will learn their opponent for the first-round matchup.

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

 Edited by James Huston, Jeanette Wallis, and Laiyla Santillan