Winless UCI blanked

IRVINE — UC Irvine women's soccer coach Scott Juniper said after his team's 2-0 nonconference loss to visiting Loyola Marymount on Friday that the Anteaters' problem was quality, not quantity.

But still winless in its first three matches, UCI is left yearning for the quantity it desires most: victories.

Goals are also becoming scarce, though the two-time defending Big West Conference regular-season champions posted an oppressive 16-6 advantage in shots, including 12-1 after halftime.

It was only the second time in 17 games that UCI has been blanked and the 0-3 start marks the program's worst since an 0-5 opening to a 3-13-1 campaign in 2006.

"In the first half, we were terrible," Juniper said after the Lions (2-1) scored in the 20th minute, then again in the 32nd minute to put the hosts in a hole. "We didn't play with any pride and that needs to be a cornerstone of everything we do. We don't accept the performance of the first half. We prepared all week, but we didn't bring it. And that's not good enough."

As listless as the 'Eaters were in the first half, they were as dominant in the second, peppering LMU goalkeeper Brittany Jagger (three saves), and playing all but a few minutes in their offensive half.

"Everything we did in the first half was awful," Juniper said. "But everything we did in the second half was good. I was very confident we could come back and win that game ... even with two minutes to go. We played the game at a ferocious tempo and pace, but it's that little killer instinct [that is missing]. It's a qualitative, not a quantitative difference, because we can't put more effort into that game."

Senior forward Rachel Wood had four shots, while juniors Natalia Ledezma and Zuri Walker both added three.

Ledezma's hooking chip toward the far post bounded off the top corner where the post meets the crossbar just 77 seconds into the second half.

Walker drove a shot that had Jagger beat, but LMU defender Whitney Sharpe, standing between Jagger and the post, redirected the shot from just in front of the goal line in the 55th minute.

Mar Rodriguez fired a rolling blast that was just a foot wide of the right goal post and numerous UCI headers, flicks, bolts and bloops failed to find the back of the net.

"In the second half, we looked like that team again," Juniper said, reverencing the NCAA Tournament squads the last two seasons that went a combined 33-7-5.

Juniper said his team may have a new look when it plays host to Auburn on Sunday at 3 p.m., the last of a four-game, season-opening homestand, after which UCI will play nine straight road contests.

"It's definitely a leadership [issue]," Juniper said of the team's lack of consistent purpose. "We graduated some really iconic leaders, for whom it was just in their blood to play with pride and be inspirational in the way they play. I think we thought we had filled that vacuum, but off that first-half performance, I know we didn't. So we're going to have to take a long, hard look at the lineup. We're very pretty, but you don't' win games being very pretty."

LMU took advantage of a defensive lapse to open the scoring, then Jocelyn Blankenship, who has an assist on the first goal, lined a blast into the upper right corner after walking into the 18-yad box against some casual UCI defensive pressure.

Freshman Corey Tobin started in goal for UCI, but exited with a finger injury after the second goal. She and sophomore replacement Jennifer Randazzo had one save apiece.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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