Women’s Basketball: UCI front-loaded

There are two particular areas in which the UC Irvine women’s basketball team does not much resemble Anteater squads of recent years.

One: What it has inside. And, two: What the Anteaters have inside.

The initial reference is to a corps of post players that provide an interior strength that has long been lacking in the program, run now by first-year coach Doug Oliver.

The second assertion refers to a preponderance of toughness — bordering on orneriness with a few players, Oliver says — that should serve the ‘Eaters well in competitive situations.

Oliver, who steps in for Molly Goodenbour (now at Cal State Dominguez Hills after a 44-76 record in four seasons at the UCI helm), believes Loyola Marymount transfer Camille Buckley provides a foundation inside. Oliver is a former men’s head coach at Idaho State who served as a UCI women’s assistant last season after two seasons in the same role with the UCI men’s team.

Buckley, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, has the ability to reward those who feed the post with an assist. She also is a tenacious rebounder, said Oliver, who boasts depth inside with the presence of senior Jazmyne White, junior Jasmine Bernard and senior Cheyenne Cathey.

“She is just relentless pursuing the ball, rebounding-wise,” Oliver said of Buckley, who had 12 points and seven rebounds and made six of nine field-goal attempts in a 66-32 exhibition win over NAIA representative Cal State San Marcos on Tuesday. “We can throw it into the low post and she’s going to get it up on the glass. She’s athletic and she bounces off the floor and makes things happen.”

The 5-9 White, still recovering from knee surgery that ended her junior season after 15 games, is the leading scorer among eight returners. The former Big West Conference Freshman of the Year averaged 9.8 points and six rebounds per game in 2011-12. Oliver said she is already practicing, with some limitations, and should be cleared to play within a few weeks.

The 6-0 Bernard averaged 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 28 games last season, including four starts. She had 12 points and 10 rebounds in Tuesday’s exhibition and has shown flashes of brilliance during her career.

“The thing we need from Jasmine is consistency,” Oliver said.

The 5-11 Cathey adds depth after playing in 27 games last season, including six starts.

The backcourt, where the loss of first-team all-conference senior Kassandra McCalister and junior Jacquelyn Marshall has left sizable holes, will need players to step up. Those getting opportunities include senior Anete Klintsone, junior Kelly Meggs and junior community college transfers Jennifer Tsurumoto and Vanessa Aguilar.

McCalister averaged a team-best 13.4 points per game as a senior last season, when she was asked to run the point and be the No. 1 scoring option.

Marshall, who averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 rebounds, has transferred to The Master’s College.

Klintsone, a hard-nosed competitor born in Latvia and still dealing with nagging leg injuries, averaged nine points and 3.9 rebounds in her first season with the Anteaters.

"[Klintsone] makes a big difference for us because she is so darn tough,” Oliver said. “You need that orneriness out there, because it generates that kind of aggressive play among her teammates.”

Tsurumoto is a pass-first point guard who will also supplement the three-point shooting that Oliver said will be a necessity for success. The 5-6 product of Santa Rosa College had two three-pointers, nine points and three assists with just one turnover in 22 minutes on Tuesday.

Aguilar, a 5-8 sharpshooter out of Los Angeles Valley College, was three-for-three from three-point range in the exhibition game on her way to 11 points in 14 minutes.

"[Aguilar] is streaky, but when she gets to making some, she can shoot the ball from the perimeter with ease,” Oliver said.

Meggs averaged 4.4 points last season, when she started five games. She will share time with Tsurumoto at the point, Oliver said.

Sophomore Methlyn Onomoguho and freshman Mokun Fajemisin also figure to play big roles at forward.

Onomoguho, the team’s best athlete a year ago when she started 25 games and made the conference All-Freshman team, averaged 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in 2011-12.

Primarily a slasher on the offensive end last season, she has a more well-rounded game this season, Oliver said.

“I am really happy with the improvement she has made on her shooting stroke,” Oliver said.

Fajemisin, the lone scholarship freshman on the roster, is 5-11, but has a 6-6 wingspan, Oliver said. She put that length to good use by blocking five shots in the exhibition game.

Senior Pernilla Hanson (five starts as a junior), junior Lauren Spinazze and freshman walk-on Raelyn Cheung-Sutton add depth for UCI, which plays host to nearby Concordia in another exhibition on Tuesday, before opening the regular season at Santa Clara on Nov. 9.

UCI, which tied for third in the Big West last season, its best finish since 1997-98, was picked to finish ninth in the 10-team conference in the preseason media poll.

But UCI, which was 13-17 last season, has bettered its predicted preseason finish each of the last four seasons and widespread losses and question marks prevail among Big West rivals this season.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5