Women’s basketball stuns Long Beach State, now second place in conference

Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER
Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER

Feb. 5, 2015
Highlanders 77 – Titans 69

Fueled by a quick and aggressive defense, the women’s basketball team defeated the Cal State Fullerton Titans, 77-69. Brittany Crain scored 20 points and dished out nine assists, and Annelise Ito added 14 points and 12 boards for the Highlanders, who outshot the Titans 41-26 in field attempts in the first half and 69-53 overall. This discrepancy was mainly due to the ferocious defensive display of the Highlanders, who ended the game with 17 steals and forced 27 turnovers, scoring 30 points off those turnovers.

Neither team could establish a significant lead early, with neither squad being ahead by more than seven points for the first 16 minutes of play. Michelle Curry (10 points), the freshman guard from Los Angeles, established the aggressive mindset on defense early, though she picked up two quick fouls in the process, with the team committing five fouls in five minutes. However, the team adjusted and did not reach the seven-foul bonus for another 10 minutes.

The Titans, lead by Chante Miles’ 20 points and eight assists and Kathleen Iwuoha’s 19 points and 14 rebounds, kept the game close for a majority of the first half. However, with 7:52 to play in the first and the Highlanders leading by only one, the defensive intensity from Head Coach John Margaritis’ squad increased dramatically. Rotations were quick and smooth as help defense collapsed on dribble penetration and stayed aggressive on the passing lanes, forcing six turnovers and going on a 13-2 run over the next 5:14 to create a solid eight-point lead heading into the locker room at intermission.
The second half saw UCR take advantage of the cushion it created, keeping a comfortable margin between the two teams. While they were hindered early by Curry’s third foul, they found themselves establishing a lead as large as 15 and coasted through the early minutes of the second half with a flurry of mid-range jumpers and continued their defensive onslaught.

Things looked even grimmer for the Titans when Miles fouled out of the game with 7:47 to play and her team down 63-52. However, the Titans proceeded to close the gap, narrowing the lead to 64-60 with 4:41 remaining. This was as close as they would get, as clutch shots from Crain, Ito, Dynese Adams (10 points) and Jaelyn Wilson (nine points) helped put the game away and sent the Student Recreation Center Arena crowd home happy.

The Highlanders move to 14-8 on the year and 5-3 in conference play.
Feb. 7, 2015
Highlanders 80 – 49ers 74

Fresh off her addition to the Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List, Brittany Crain showed exactly why she deserves recognition on the national level.
In front of a raucous Student Recreation Center Arena crowd, the junior guard from Moreno Valley, Calif. lit up the scoreboard with 27 points as the women’s basketball team played one of their best games of the season, taking down the visiting Long Beach State 49ers, 80-74, who lost only three games heading into the contest.

Averaging 23.9 points per game, along with 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 steals, Crain showed her election to the award watch list on Friday was merited. Named after the Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and women’s basketball pioneer, the Nancy Lieberman Award is given to the point guard who displays the floor leadership and playmaking ability that Lieberman exhibited during her career. Crain exemplified both of these ideals with a toughness and unrelenting pursuit for the basket, shooting 17 free throws and converting on 14 of them, while making six-of-12 from the field.

Michelle Curry stepped up her scoring output, contributing a career-high 20 points for the Highlanders and also grabbing 10 rebounds. UCR also got major contributions from Ito (18 points). Riverside native and junior guard Akilah Martin provided a spark off the bench with eight points in a back-and-forth game where every possession was valuable.

Facing a daunting three-loss team, the Highlanders got off to an excellent start and built a 10-point lead quickly. However, Long Beach State would not go away, and they soon rallied to take a 25-23 point lead with 6:38 to play in the first. However, UCR brought the lead back to 10, followed by another Long Beach State run. This pattern of runs continued into the 40-35 Highlander lead heading into halftime.

The second half started in much the same way, with Long Beach State quickly scoring four points and trading short runs back and forth, but through a 9-0 run with about 14 minutes to play, the Highlanders were able to sustain a comfortable, multi-possession lead throughout most of the second half. Even this advantage decayed, as the 49ers crawled to within two with seven minutes to play. However, they could never surmount the Highlanders, as the aggressive UCR offense led to 12 free throws in the final seven minutes of play, sustaining the lead and the win.

The Highlanders dropped Long Beach State to 19-4 overall and 6-3 in conference play, while UCR improved to 14-8 overall and 6-3 in conference play. The Highlanders are now in a three-way tie for second place in the Big West standings with the 49ers and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

UCR next hosts Hawaii on Thursday, Feb. 12 at the SRC Arena.

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