IRVINE — There was a time when UC Irvine’s Mikah Maly-Karros looked through the jungle of hands, arms and torsos presented by triple-teaming defenders and saw a challenge. Now, she sees a teammate on the perimeter waiting to make the defense pay.
The Anteaters lightened the prolific post player’s inside burden by making a season-high nine three-pointers Tuesday in a 73-56 nonconference women’s basketball triumph against Portland at the Bren Events Center.
The win ups UCI’s record to 8-4, the program’s best start since the 1994-95 Anteaters also opened 8-4. To find a better start at UCI, one must go back to the 1984-85 team that opened with a 9-2 record that eventually became 13-3.
“This is the best start Irvine has had in a long time,” said third-year coach Molly Goodenbour, whose team gets nine days off before opening Big West Conference play Dec. 31 at UC Riverside.
Maly-Karros, who leads the Big West in scoring and rebounding, collected 14 of her 20 points in the second half Tuesday, after five first-half three-pointers helped loosen the defensive focus the Pilots (9-4) dedicated to her inside.
“In the beginning, they were double- and triple-teaming me,” said Maly-Karros, who was five for five from the field in the final 20 minutes, after missing all five of her field-goal attempts in the first half, all under extreme duress. “But after [my teammates] hit some shots, the middle opened up.”
UCI made four three-pointers during a 20-0 first-half run that turned a 15-12 deficit into a 17-point advantage that was trimmed to a 32-17 halftime lead.
UCI sophomore Jacqueline Marshall sank a three-pointer to open the second-half scoring and made three of her four three-pointers after intermission for most of her 16 points.
Senior point guard Jade Smith-Williams made two of three attempts from three-point range on her way to 20 points, finishing eight of 15 from the field.
Maly-Karros, who came in averaging 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds, led the ‘Eaters with nine rebounds, while adding two assists (both kick-out passes for three-pointers), two steals and one blocked shot.
“Realistically, Mikah should have a double-double every night,” Goodenbour said of Maly-Karros, who had a 40-point game last season when she earned first-team all-conference honors. “But now, we also have players around her who are able to do their part as well, which is what I’m excited about.”
Freshman Kelly Meggs (two) and sophomore Tayler Champion (one) added to UCI’s three-point barrage, as the hosts shot 42.9% on 21 three-point attempts. In contrast, the ‘Eaters made 14 of 34 shots from inside the arc (41.2%), including 22 points in the paint, 18 of which came after halftime.
“We talked during the first half and at halftime about getting some shots for our perimeter players in order to get some space for our inside players,” Goodenbour said.
When UCI could not finish inside, it usually drew a foul. The Anteaters were 18 of 22 from the foul line, including 10 of 11 by Maly-Karros. Portland, which had its four-game win streak snapped, was seven of nine from the free-throw line, all in the second half.
The Pilots used four three-pointers within a span of 3:28 to pull within 54-46 with 9:00 left. But UCI closed with a 19-10 run to secure its eighth win in its last nine games. It was the sixth win in as many home games for UCI this season.
“We really have a whole new team this year,” said Maly-Karros, who has led UCI within one victory of its first season with at least 10 wins since 2002-03. “We have so many weapons, it’s really hard to guard us.”
Sophomore Jazmyne White had five points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block for UCI, which won the turnover battle, 21-12.
UC Irvine 73, Portland 56???
P — Clemons 12, Angel 0, Cronin 17, Teclemariam 4, N. Brown 2, Day 6, Gannis 6, Pupa 5, C. Brown 4.
3-pt. goals — Cronin 4, Pupa 1.
Fouled out — None.
Technicals — None.
UCI — Maly-Karros 20, Marshall 16, White 5, Belen 3, Smith-Williams 20, Meggs 6, Champion 3.
3-pt. goals — Marshall 4, Smith-Williams 2, Meggs 2, Champion 1.
Fouled out — None.
Technicals — None.
Halftime — UCI, 32-17.