Both games for the week turned out to be thrillers for the UCR women’s basketball team (13-12, 7-4), who went the distance in a 75-68 double overtime victory over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (5-18, 2-10).
The Highlanders needed to adjust their game plan in the first half, as their leading scorer in redshirt junior guard Jannon Otto fouled out with 5:47 left in the second quarter. From here, Riverside slowly acclimated without Otto on the floor and maintained a 27-25 lead at the half. They even piled on to their lead by opening up a 12-2 run to begin the second half.
But to make things more difficult, senior forward Malou De Kergret fouled out as well with 2:27 remaining in the third. Both De Kergret and Otto have come up big for the Highlanders as of late, especially in their previous matchup against SLO where the duo combined for 52 points.
With two of the team’s offensive weapons forced to watch the game from the sideline, coach John Margaritis had to do something unusual — play some bench players. Margaritis inserted freshmen guards Andriana Kasapi and Lauryn Pointer along with junior forward Jalyn Clay into the game’s consistent rotation, as the trio had the chance get more minutes.
The two teams were neck and neck with each other, with Riverside holding a 56-55 lead towards the end of regulation. Cal Poly’s Hana Vesela drew a foul after her team grabbed an offensive rebound with 10 seconds left on the clock. Vesela had the chance to put her team up by one and force the Highlanders into holding serve, but she missed the second free throw. The Highlanders had the chance to win it but sophomore guard Keilanei Cooper misfired on a three at the buzzer.
However, Cooper was given another opportunity to sink a last-minute basket in overtime and tied the game at 63 points apiece. Unfortunately though, after redshirt freshman forward Daphne Gnago forced a Cal Poly turnover, Cooper turned the ball over right back as the overtime buzzer rang.
Though both teams were exhausted heading into a second overtime, the Highlanders amassed a 10-0 run in the period to put the game to bed once and for all.
Cooper led her team in scoring with 24 points, while junior forward Marina Ewodo notched her sixth double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
The team then travelled to UC Irvine, who also sat at a 7-4 record in conference play. Whichever team came out on top would be in a tie for second place in the standings with CSUN.
With that in mind, it’s only fitting that a game with these stakes had a wild ending.
In her first game back since suffering a broken foot against UC Davis on Jan. 5, sophomore guard Tianna Eaton couldn’t have chosen a better time to score her only basket all night, as she drained a three-pointer from the wing with 4.2 seconds left to play. The basket gave her team a 66-64 advantage, but the sophomore immediately fouled Irvine’s Jordan Sanders to send her to the line. Sanders’ second-half shooting woes continued as she missed the first free throw and made the second. UCR would escape with a 66-65 win.
The game remained close throughout the 40 minutes of play, with both teams’ largest lead being six points. Overall, the matchup saw 17 lead changes as well as 10 ties.
Otto finished the contest with 18 points, while Gnago scored a season-high of 17 points on a perfect 8-for-8 shooting night while grabbing 12 boards. De Kergret also added 14 points and 5 assists on the night.
Crunch time ensues for the Highlanders who only have four conference games left to play, and after tying CSUN for second place with this win, UCR will now host the Matadors with sole possession of second place on the line. The game will take place Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in the SRC Arena.
Riverside also looks to split the season series as they fell to CSUN 56-69 the last time these two teams played.