IRVINE — The UC Irvine women's basketball team is still one game short of breaking even this season. But ever since capping a five-game losing streak onNew Year's Eve, the Anteaters have been breaking anything but bad.
Coach Molly Goodenbour's hard-working squad unleashed its tread-bare roster of eight available players to top visiting Cal State Fullerton, 73-68, in a Big West Conference game that marked UCI's fifth straight win.
The Anteaters (9-10, 5-2 in conference) are unbeaten in January and, after an 0-2 conference start, have become a factor in what could be a wide-open conference race.
UCI is third in the Big West, behind Cal State Northridge (4-1) and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (3-1).
"We just chose to stay the course [after the five-game losing streak that ushered out 2011]," Goodenbour said. "I'm not sure what flipped the switch. I just think the volume of work [the players] put in and the concentration they've had … I think at some point, you had to figure that was going to pay off. So, maybe now is the time."
UCI's time Wednesday extended past the first 35 minutes, as they built a 22-point cushion that proved meaningful when the Titans (8-9, 1-4) finished on an 18-1 run to make the final score a tad misleading.
UCI, with a virtual seven-player rotation, had five players score in double figures and a sixth tally eight points.
Senior guard Kassandra McCalister, the conference player of the week last week, had 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals, in addition to providing what Goodenbour called much-needed leadership.
Junior guard Anete Klintsone had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Though nursing a dinged finger that was taped and in a splint, she made four of six field-goals attempts. She also combined with senior Kiara Belen to limit Fullerton guards Megan Richardson and Lauren Chow to 18 combined points (eight below their collective average).
Belen had 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while sophomore Jasmine Bernard came off the bench to chip in 13 points and six boards.
Sophomore Jacquelyn Marshall had 12 points, four rebounds and was credited with three blocks, though she altered at least five more Fullerton shots.
Freshman Methalyn Onogomuho had eight points, and led her team with nine rebounds, while adding four steals.
"Our balance tonight was tremendous," Goodenbour said. "We had five [score] in double figures and everybody rebounded [producing a 44-39 edge]. And Kassandra just keeps leading and playing with a lot of confidence. She has been our go-to person in this streak. I think her confidence gives other players more confidence. "
McCalister said a recent outbreak of injuries [junior Jazmyne White is believed to have torn her ACL in a Jan. 5 win over Pacific, sophomore Kelly Meggs sustained a concussion in practice Tuesday and sophomore Pernilla Hanson sprained both ankles on the same play at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday] hasn't been enough to derail the recent winning streak.
"We're just starting to click together," McCalister said.
Goodenbour said she did not want to over-analyze her team's turnaround.
"It's fun," Goodenbour said. "Kids are having fun and I'm having fun coaching this group. I don't know if we'll keep winning games or not but, for now, I'm going to stay in the moment and enjoy it."
Big West Conference
UC Irvine 73, Cal State Fullerton 68
CSUF – Olivier 9, Iwouha 9, Chow 10, Richardson 8, Thomas 5, Miles 13, Butler 6, Grayson 4, Bushong 4.
3-pt. goals – Miles 3, Chow 2, Olivier 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Marshall 12, Belen 10, Onogomuho 8, McCalister 14, Klintsone 14, Bernard 13, Cathey 2.
3-pt. goals – Marshall 2, McCalister 1.
Fouled out – None.
Halftime – 39-29, UCI.