In their first game of the season in the Big West Conference, the UC San Diego women’s basketball team (4–6, 1–0 Big West) defeated UC Riverside (3–4, 0–1 Big West), 60–57 in RIMAC Arena this past Thursday in a hard-fought, spectator-free win to kick off the new year. The victory marked UCSD’s fourth win of the season in all competitions, and was especially welcome after their most recent two defeats against California Baptist University and San Diego State University in December.
It was a tight game, with the lead never exceeding 9 points for either team. The Tritons were feeling the effects of their extended break from play as the night wore on; San Diego’s last game had been Dec. 17, so there was some rust to play through on Thursday. Regardless, they put on a determined display and persevered, continuing their undefeated run in all three of their games against the Highlanders since they joined the conference last year. The standout performance for the Tritons came from sophomore forward Aishah Brown, who logged an impressive double-double with career highs of 19 points and 16 rebounds.
Riverside opened the scoring in the first minute with a bucket by Ryanne Walters after winning the tipoff, but the Tritons rallied to take the lead soon after, courtesy of a 3-pointer followed by a basket from in the paint by senior guard Sydney Brown, who also put up an impressive season-high 17 points in the game. The first quarter followed this back-and-forth between the two sides, seeing Aishah Brown net a 3-pointer, freshman center Bridget Mullings provide a layup, and junior guard Ula Chamberlin a jumper to maintain San Diego’s lead throughout the period. Chamberlin also contributed a pretty 3-pointer of her own on a fastbreak with 41 seconds on the clock to put the score at 15–10 to the home side at the break.
The second period began with the Highlanders coming back into the game and narrowing the lead to just a point within the first minute through a pair of baskets from Keilanei Cooper. The Tritons showed signs of fatigue, their game slightly slower in the second quarter; despite two good free throws by Aishah Brown, Riverside took back the lead for the first time since their opening points at the beginning of the game. It was a relatively short-lived lead though, as Aishah Brown’s layup combined with a 3-pointer from a fastbreak by senior guard Madison Baxter to put San Diego ahead again, a lead they widened over the rest of the quarter.
As the scoreline grew for both sides, San Diego maintained the gap in points with contributions from Chamberlin, Baxter, and senior guard Julia Macabuhay. Riverside responded with incremental points that chipped a little from the lead each time, but not enough to pull ahead. A jumper from a fastbreak by Mullins brought the Triton’s lead to its highest in the game at 9 points with a little over a minute left before the half, and a Riverside basket by Walters 5 seconds from the buzzer led the teams into halftime with the score a comfortable 31–24 to the Tritons.
UCSD looked tired in the third period, conceding a foul that led to a free throw being converted by the Highlanders. A 3-pointer by Sydney Brown and a layup by Aishah Brown maintained the home side’s advantage, but preceded a three-minute period with no points scored by the Tritons, during which Riverside stole back the lead with a trio of successive jumpers. After a time out allowed the teams to regroup for a moment, the Tritons rallied. A layup by Aishah Brown with five seconds on the clock put UCSD back ahead at 40–39 before the final period of the game.
The last quarter saw the lead pass from one side to the other a number of times. The home side added to the advantage they had re-established before the break thanks to a good free throw by Sydney Brown, but the Tritons needed to regain it again after Riverside tied the score with a layup by Mele Finau. For the next 5 minutes, the teams went back and forth, with San Diego pulling ahead and Riverside responding by tying or taking the lead themselves. This period saw points by UCSD’s Sydney Brown, Ula Chamberlin, Aishah Brown, and redshirt senior guard Emily Cangelosi. The Tritons doggedly fought to keep their lead in a tense final 2 minutes, and despite the Highlanders putting up 7, the 8 points the home side scored was enough to see the game out to a victorious end, the final score 60–57.
Although it was an incredibly tight game down to the last minute, San Diego showed perseverance and grit to get the result in the end. At times, there was evidence of rust in their play, with 17 total turnovers and moments of sloppy play. However, despite the hitches in their performance, the Tritons and head coach Heidi VanDerveer can be proud of the victory they earned in the end.
On an individual level, Aishah Brown statistically stood out, providing much-needed points at key moments to bring the Tritons back into the game. Of Brown’s career-high 19 points on the night, 10 were scored from free throws, as she went a perfect 10-for-10 from the line. Though she also committed a game-high 7 turnovers, her impressive offensive performance overshadowed many of those defensive mistakes, culminating in an important win to kick off UCSD’s conference season.
The Tritons followed this performance with another Big West win at home on Friday against the UC Davis Aggies, again eking out a narrow win, 59–56. They will next face UC Irvine at RIMAC on Tuesday, Jan. 11 in their third successive Big West home game.
Image courtesy of Mike McGinnis / UC San Diego Athletics