Womens basketball caps off back-to-back wins in thrilling fashion

Martin Lopez/HIGHLANDER
Martin Lopez/HIGHLANDER

UC Riverside’s women’s basketball team (12-10, 6-3) bounced back from a tough loss against Long Beach State with a convincing victory against Hawai’i (8-13, 4-5) on Thursday, Feb. 2. The women put on a show from the get-go, leading 22-16 in the first quarter and never surrendering the lead en route to a 63-45 win.

The Highlanders took advantage of Hawaii’s poor shooting in the first half as they jumped to a 13-point lead at halftime. UCR held Hawai’i to just 28.1 percent from the field at halftime while they nailed 43.3 percent of their shots. This can be attributed to fluid ball movement, as six players notched points for the ballclub during the first half. The team was led by forward Skyler Lewis, who pitched in nine points, three rebounds and two blocks in just one half.

The team’s suffocating defense continued in the second half where they held Hawai’i to just 20.6 percent shooting. Hawai’i fought resiliently as their defense forced the Highlanders into just 32.4 percent from the field in the second half. Despite impressive defense, the Highlanders were able to coast to a comfortable 18-point victory in their home turf.

Lewis played with a facemask for a broken nose suffered last week and finished with career-highs in points and rebounds, totalling a full line of 15 points, 12 rebounds, one assist and four blocks. The toughness of the freshman impressed Head Coach John Margaritis, however he was not surprised by her play.

“She’s just a wonderful young lady, just get to know her,” said Margaritis. “She’s a great student, she works so hard at everything, so it does not surprise me that this is happening and I’m just so glad for her that it is happening.” Margaritis noted the particular difficulty in playing in the first year of a college system. He stated, “As a freshman, there’s so many things that are so different from your life than in high school (…) the competition, the energy level, there are so many things that are so different. Everybody has to go through that, but she’s progressing.” Given the intense lifestyle change for high school seniors to college freshmen, the improved development of the team’s freshmen serves as an encouraging mark for their future.

The rest of the team followed suit, as star forward Rejane Verin finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while guards Lauren Holt and Simone DeCoud pitched in 12 and 10 points, respectively. Margaritis noted the team’s performance without Verin, stating, “She scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half. It was good to see that we were effective without Rejane, it was good to see other people step up and play.” The emergence of notable scorers such as Holt and DeCoud, along with the improved play of Lewis, can serve as catalysts for the offense as the team gets closer to the conference tournament.

The Highlanders carried their energy into an exciting 72-69 victory against Cal Poly (7-14, 3-6) Saturday, Feb. 4. Holt and Verin did the heavy lifting for the squad as they finished with a combined 35 of the team’s total 72 points.

The Mustangs held onto a slim 3-point lead at halftime, but surrendered it after missing 13 of their 17 shots in the third. The Highlanders capitalized on the Mustangs’ inefficiencies as they scored 23 points in the third quarter while the Mustangs only managed 14 points. Overall, the team shot very efficiently as they made 46 percent of their shots while holding Cal Poly to 39.7 percent.

In a game where they lost the rebounding battle 27-36, UC Riverside made up for it with efficient shooting in all aspects of the game. They matched their 46 percent field goal shooting with 54.5 percent shooting for three and 87 percent at the line. Verine sealed the game with five clutch free throws in the last 30 seconds of the fourth quarter to survive a thriller in the valley.

Catch the Highlanders as they take on Hawai’i for a rematch in the Aloha state on Wednesday, Feb. 4, starting at 9 p.m. EST.

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