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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL / BIG WEST ROUNDUP : Anteaters End Long Skid Against Long Beach State

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now that the UC Irvine “Pay-Back Tour” is in full swing and playing to packed--OK, semi-filled--arenas, it seems only right that this new, improved breed of Anteater women’s basketball player would finally exorcise one of the program’s biggest demons: Long Beach State.

Irvine was on the wrong end of 21 previous meetings with the 49ers, losing each game since the 1983-84 season. And any suspense went out of most of those games around, oh, the first few minutes after tipoff.

But this is a new day for the Anteaters, as Long Beach witnessed Friday night in first-place Irvine’s 66-51 Big West Conference victory in front of 781 at The Pyramid.

“This was a big win for our program,” said Anteater Coach Colleen Matsuhara, whose team is 10-5 and 7-1 in conference after winning 12 games total the last three seasons combined .

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“I felt all along like this was the year we could step up our level of play.”

Nice, but not exactly an emotional outpouring, coach.

Senior forward Jinelle Williams’ description better describes the Anteaters’ postgame mood.

“No question about it--it feels good,” Williams said, shortly after scoring a season-high 22 points.

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“It feels good to look them in the face and take it to them.”

Irvine totally outplayed the 49ers with first place on the line. Long Beach (8-8, 5-3) started the game tied for second.

For some reason, however, the 49ers didn’t play as if they knew the game was significant. And that’s about the nicest thing Long Beach Coach Glenn McDonald would say about his team.

“This might be the worst display of basketball, offensively and defensively, that we’ve shown all year,” McDonald said. “Out of the whole 40 minutes, I can find about six minutes where we actually played. And that was spread out over the entire game.”

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One such stretch occurred in the first half when Long Beach took a 17-12 lead on a three-pointer by junior point guard Akia Hardy. Then the 49ers went cold for the rest of the half. Irvine’s 21-9 run gave the Anteaters a 33-26 halftime lead.

Long Beach turnovers, coupled with Irvine’s tight defense on 49er senior center Melissa Gower, helped Irvine’s seven-point halftime lead grow quickly in the second half.

Gower started the game third in the Big West in scoring with a 22.6-point average, but only scored 12. Gower, the conference’s leading rebounder, pulled down 10.

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In another Big West game:

UC Santa Barbara 68, CS Fullerton 63--Koko Lahanas scored 31 points for the Titans (7-8, 4-4). Fullerton led by three at the half, 31-28, but Santa Barbara (9-5, 5-2) outscored the Titans 40-32 in the second half. Forward Amy Smith scored 23 points for Santa Barbara.


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