'Eaters ousted by UCSB

IRVINE — Its best regular-season finish in at least a decade was quickly rendered a footnote Tuesday, as the UC Irvine women's basketball team wasted an exhilarating start and its first home postseason game ever in the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference Tournament.

UC Santa Barbara (15-15), the No. 6 seed, overcame a disastrous opening to earn a 61-51 victory that ended the season for the No. 3-seeded Anteaters (13-17).

UCI held the Gauchos without a point for the first 6:28 and led, 8-0, despite having its first-team all-conference senior guard, Kassandra McCalister, come off the bench due to a broken bone in her foot.

McCalister, who scored 57 points in two regular-season wins over UCSB — the Anteaters' first regular-season sweep of their neighbors to the north since the 1987-88 season — scored three of her five points in the final 26 seconds. She played just 19 minutes.

Junior guard Anete Klintsone, playing with severe shin splints and a torn tendon in one hand, also struggled. She missed all four of her shots from the field and finished scoreless. She did chip in four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one blocked shot to go with three turnovers. It was also Klintsone's hard-nosed defense that helped hold UCSB senior all-conference guard Emilie Johnson to one-of-10 shooting from the field.

UCI's Methlyn Onogomuho, a bright light for the future who earned All-Freshman honors in the Big West, had 14 points and 10 rebounds. She made four of five field-goal attempts in 34 minutes.

Junior Jacquelyn Marshall had 13 points and three rebounds, while senior Kiara Belen posted eight of her 11 points in the first half, after which UCI led, 26-24.

Outside of UCI's top three scorers, the remaining six players who played combined for 13 points and made just four of 21 field-goal attempts (19%).

UCI was just two of 13 from three-point range (15.4%).

UCSB reserve guard Melissa Zornig led the winners with 15 points.

Johnson netted eight free throws in the final 75 seconds to finish with 10 points.

UCSB posted a 36-25 rebounding advantage, including a 15-6 bulge on the offensive glass.

The Gauchos earned their first lead (27-26) in the opening minutes of the second half, but UCI refused to relent.

Onogomuho converted a three-point play with 6:28 remaining to give UCI a 42-41 edge.

But a follow shot by Sweets Underwood put the visitors on top for good just 24 seconds later and UCI did not manage another field goal until McCalister converted from the perimeter with 26 seconds left.

It was the seventh straight opening-round loss in the Big West Tournament for UCI, which last won a tournament opener in 2006.

But, after losing would-be returners Mikah Maly-Karros and Tayler Champion in the offseason, then having starting forward Jazmyne White go down with a season-ending knee injury in late December, UCI banded together to win nine of its final 15 regular-season games to finish tied for third in the Big West standings.

"I'm proud of our kids," fourth-year UCI coach Molly Goodenbour said. "They battled like warriors and they were banged up and sick [Tuesday]. They have nothing to hang their heads about. We've been a very resilient group. To be able to take this particular group and finish as well as we did, was, I think, a pretty good accomplishment for that group of kids."


Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5


Big West Conference Tournament quarterfinal

UC Santa Barbara 61, UC Irvine 51

UCSB – Adrian 8, Tilleman 9, Johnson 10, Underwood 9, Mason 0, Zornig 15, Nesbit 4, Aguirre 4, Luna-Castro 2.

3-pt. goals – Adrian 2, Zornig 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

UCI – Onogomuho 14, Marshall 13, Belen 11, Meggs 4, Klintsone 0, McCalister 5, Spinazze 2, Bernard 2.

3-pt. goals – Marshall 1, Belen 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

Halftime – 26-24, UCI.

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