By: Kevin Contreras, Sports Editor
UCR’s women’s basketball team returned to the court this past week to face off against two major opponents. After about a 3-week hiatus, the women’s team was eager to resume game play again. Coach Nicole Powell and her team fought bravely in their new year debut but unfortunately suffered back-to-back losses. On Jan. 6, the Highlanders lost against UC San Diego 57-60 in a last minute slip up. Desperate to come back, the Highlanders traveled to Irvine for the Big West season opener on Jan. 8.
Both teams quickly tapped into their competitive spirit immediately after tip off. The Irvine Anteaters were the first to score, with Hunter Hernandez opening up the scoreboard. A minute later, sophomore guard India Aikins came into the paint off of a fast break to even out the score. Both teams went back and forth again. UCR Riverside quickly found themselves in the lead after a free throw from junior forward Anna Blount put them up 5-4. Both teams, eager to claim the lead for themselves, traded baskets, tying at 7 points with just over five minutes left in the first quarter. Irvine began going ahead, but the Highlanders quickly put themselves back into it. Both teams tied again at 13 with over a minute to go, but the Anteaters managed a quick 5-0 run. The Highlanders ended the first quarter down 13-18.
The Highlanders came into the second quarter with a newfound intensity, quickly going on a 6-0 run putting them up 19-18. The Highlanders wanted to get back in the lead, but the small deficit from the first quarter seemed to be too deep. Senior guard Keilani Cooper and Aikins managed to add a combined total of 6 more points to the Highlander score. Both teams scored 12 points in the second half, but the 5-point deficit remained the same as UCR went into halftime down 25-30.
After a tough first half, UC Riverside went into the second half with that same Highlander vigor, going on a 5-0 to tie the score at 30. The Anteaters did not retreat, scoring some shots of their own. Both teams tied again at 32 with 6:32 left on the clock. Irvine then began to break away again, going on a 7-0 run which put up 39-32. Despite that, UCR did not relent, going on a 7-2 run of their own, landing them at 39-41 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. Irvine managed to find another lead again, reaching 44 points, but UCR was right behind them, ending the quarter down by one, 43-44.
Once again, UCR found themselves going on the offensive at the beginning of the final quarter, going on a 4-0 run which put them up 47-44 within the first two minutes. The Anteaters responded to that with an 8-0 run of their own, 52-47. UCR attempted to keep the Anteaters at bay scoring 4 points to put them down by one, 52-51 with over two minutes left on the clock. The Anteater offense proved too much for the Highlanders going on another impressive 7-0 run, putting them up 59-51 with 17 seconds left in the game. The Highlanders tried to muster up the necessary 8 points to tie and head into over time but were unable, losing the game 59-53.
The Highlander stars in this game were Cooper and Aikins, scoring 14 and 12 points respectively. The unfortunate thorn in the Highlander team’s side was the amount of turnovers which allowed Irvine to score as many points as they did. UCR’s offense still was able to shine through in small moments, managing to score a total of 24 points from within the paint.
The Highlanders resume game play on Jan. 13, against Cal Poly in the SRC Arena.