Highlanders remain undefeated, take home tournament championship

Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER
Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER

Nov. 28, 2014
Highlanders 90 – Lady Jacks 62

On a busy Black Friday, the UC Riverside women’s basketball team played in New Mexico University’s Thanksgiving Tournament as the rest of America shopped on one of the busiest retail days of the year. The first opponent the Highlanders squared off against was Stephen F. Austin University on Friday afternoon.

Prior to the game, it was UCR’s first time since the 1995-1996 season to start the season 3-0. Last week’s victory against San Francisco was also the 147th career win for John Margaritis, which eclipsed the record for most wins as UCR women’s basketball head coach, set by Nancy Simpson with 146 wins.

Standout junior Brittany Crain was ranked sixth in the nation in scoring (26.3 ppg) prior to the game. Crain is ranked No. 2 in UCR history in her career scoring average, with 17.2 points per game prior to this matchup, only behind Donna Hammond-Mares who scored 22.8 points per game from 1979-1983.

Another standout player, sophomore Simone DeCoud, was 42nd in the nation with 20.7 ppg. Combined, the pair of Highlanders are two of the top scorers in Big West Conference.

UCR controlled the pace of the game early, leading by as much as 21 points before the break.
The Lady Jacks won the tip-off but that seemed to be the only time they had control of the ball.

SFA’s lead scorer, Taylor Ross, averaged 23 points per game and was ranked 21st in the nation heading into the contest. UCR’s defense held her to four points on one-for-four shooting in the first half.

On the other hand, the red-hot Crain could not be stopped as she scored 20 points in the first half. A number of Highlanders added to the 19-point first-half lead, 45-26. DeCoud had nine points, followed by Annelise Ito with six points.

In the second half, Ito and DeCoud would pick up three fouls apiece, giving SFA a glimmer of hope. The Lady Jacks made six of their first nine shots to make it a 15-point game, 60-45, but that flame would be short-lived. The Highlanders would score 18 of the next 20 points, pulling away by 31 at 78-47 before ending the game, 90-62.

UCR broke a program record, shooting 63 percent from the field, including eight-of-14 from beyond the arc.

In the game, Crain scored a game-high 35 points, passing Natasha Hadley (1,016) and Liz Lattimer (1,036) for 14th all-time in Highlander scoring. DeCoud and Ito scored 11 points.

Currently, the Highlanders are averaging a league-best 82.0 points per game, 14.6 points higher than last season.

Nov. 29, 2014
Highlanders 70 – Lobos 62

UCR’s perfect record was tested last Saturday evening as they faced the hosting New Mexico Lobos in the New Mexico Thanksgiving Tournament championship.

Crain, who is ranked first in the nation in scoring (29 ppg), led the team with a 31-point game and six rebounds, while Ito followed with 14 and seven rebounds. DeCoud had 13 points and seven assists.

UCR got off to a rough start as the Lobos scored the first four points of the game. Missed jumpers and a few turnovers saw UCR fall behind, 10-2.

DeCoud then answered with a layup with 16:47 remaining in the first half, leaving the score 10-4. The Highlanders continued plugging away at the deficit as Crain stepped up and shot a jumper with 13:54 remaining, then came up with another after Ito’s defensive rebound, closing the Lobos’ lead to two points, 14-12.

Turnovers were key in this game, as UCR only had six compared to New Mexico’s 14. On the last possession of the half, New Mexico’s Laneah Bryan would steal from DeCoud and the Lobos’ Cherise Beynon would make a lay-up, bringing the score to 33-33.

The hosting Lobos would not go down easily as the game would be tied a total of six times, and five lead changes occurred on top of this.

The biggest lead of the game came late in the second half as DeCoud and Crain sunk back-to-back shots, bringing the score to 65-55 with 4:45 remaining. New Mexico would get as close as a five-point deficit but would not be able to score more as UCR pulled away to 70 points with 1:12 remaining. New Mexico would have two more chances but would miss both a jumper and a three-pointer with 26 seconds left in the game.

Crain came up with a defensive rebound to seal her team’s fifth consecutive victory, 70-62, preserving their undefeated season and taking the Thanksgiving Championship to Riverside.

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