February 13, 2014
Rainbow Wahine 67 – Highlanders 54
UCR women’s basketball (4-19, 0-10) traveled to one of the most desirable vacation destinations in the world, the Aloha State, for a Thursday showdown against Hawaii. Despite an impressive offensive first half, the Highlanders suffered inopportune scoring droughts and couldn’t withstand a strong paint rally from the Rainbow Wahine, losing 67-54.
With 1,500 fans in the stands, UC Riverside kept the Stan Sheriff Center quiet early as the team jumped out to a 18-10 lead midway through the half. The Highlanders’ defense kept the Wahine, who have the third-best record in the Big West, without a made shot for over five minutes. The visiting team extended its lead to 10 points at 23-13 behind several jumpers from the perimeter players. Hawaii’s Kamilah Jackson, who leads the Wahine in points and rebounding, sparked a 15-2 Wahine run that saw the home team swiftly chip away the lead. When the intermission whistle blew, the Highlanders found themselves down by three, 28-25.
In the second half, the Rainbow Wahine started to pull away as their baskets started to fall. Hawaii pounded inside the paint, outscoring the Highlanders 28-4 in the period. With a steady diet of post-ups from Jackson and the guards penetrating the lane, the Wahine built their lead to double digits for the remainder of the period, winning the contest, 67-54.
Brittany Crain scored a game-high 23 points on nine-of-13 shooting while Annelise Ito notched 14. Morgan Mason led the Wahine with 15 points. UCR was outscored 36-14 inside the paint while getting outrebounded 42-27.
February 15, 2014
Highlanders 87- Anteaters 75
When the buzzer for the end of the first half rang in the hollow Student Recreation Center Arena, many fans thought the night would be of a particular pattern. The women’s basketball team was down by seven points, 41-34. They entered Saturday night’s contest on a 16-game losing streak. The program last recorded a conference win in February of 2013. Annelise Ito, the team’s leading rebounder, suffered an injury and did not return. Needless to say, optimism was not permeating the air.
When the Highlanders returned for the second half, half-hearted claps followed. A loss was expected. The team, however, didn’t follow the all-too-familiar narrative. Natasha Hadley, who had struggled with the physicality of the Irvine post players, received a nifty bounce pass from Kiara Harewood to score the Highlanders’ first bucket of the half, 36-41. Brittany Crain, who was limited in the first 20 minutes by three fouls, revved up her engine as the guard’s silky smooth jumper started to fall, pushing the home team ahead, 42-41.
Akilah Martin only averaged four points on the season, but on Saturday, something was different as the guard produced a career-high night. Her three-pointer at the 15-minute mark put UCR up by three points, 52-49.
UC Irvine, who has the fourth-best record in the conference, did not fade away, however. Led by Camille Buckley, who scored 28 points and 15 rebounds on the night, the Anteaters continued to keep the game within a single possession. Buckley was fouled at 65-60. The forward, who wreaked havoc on Riverside in the paint, sank both free throws to bring the Anteaters to within one possession once again, 65-62, with nine minutes remaining. On the next possession, Martin found herself open beyond the arc. With her feet planted, the guard elevated and released. The result was UCR’s ninth three-pointer of the night and a six-point advantage, 68-62. The wind was taken out of Irvine’s sail.
UC Riverside continued to push the issue, knocking down jumpers and playing solid defense. When the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard displayed 87-75 in favor of the Highlanders. The visible excitement of the team was evident as players could hardly resist celebrating their first conference win of the season. UCR Head Coach John Margaritas smiled. He never doubted “his” girls.
“I’m always proud of them,” Margaritis stated. “I was proud of them throughout (the season). The scoreboard tells you one thing. But you see something completely different. You see them working every day. You see them not giving up. You see them sacrifice. And those are the things that make you proud.”
UC Riverside shot over 50 percent from the field while connecting on a season-high 11 of 18 three-pointers (61 percent). Both teams converted 18 points off of turnovers. The Highlanders outscored the Anteaters 16-2 in the category during the vital second half.
“The scoreboard and the record wasn’t what we wanted it to be,” Margaritis said of UCR’s season. “But it didn’t deter us from coming in everyday and working hard.”
Crain led UCR with 22 points, including a perfect five-of-five three-pointers, while Hadley recorded 19 points and eight rebounds. Martin scored a career-high 17 points.
When asked about the team’s excitement after the game, Martin blushed. “I can’t even explain,” she said. “We all ran into the locker room and jumped on each other and everything.”
The Highlanders, whose record now stands at 1-10 in conference, will stay home and face the Santa Barbara Gauchos on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.