UC Irvine women outlast UCSB in OT after Hunter Hernandez injury – Orange County Register

IRVINE — UC Irvine women’s basketball coach Tamara Inoue was barely able to practice in overtime against UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night.

Minutes earlier, she had to carry off Hunter Hernandez – the team’s top scorer and rebounder this season – after the guard sustained what appeared to be a serious knee injury while riding on the track. UCI (20-5 overall, 12-2 Big West) have already lost two starters to season-ending injuries in conference play, and Hernandez could be the third.

The arena fell silent. Teammates in tears. Inoue said she was “a mess”.

But the Anteaters responded with dominant overtime for a 74-60 win, beating UCSB 18-4 in the extra session – including a 10-0 run – for their 20th win of the season.

UCI, second in the conference, kept pace in the standings, a half game behind first-place Long Beach State (18-7, 13-2).

“Honestly, I don’t even think I trained it,” Inoue said of the overtime. “We just looked at it and the players took it upon themselves and did their job.”

Diaba Konate led the UCI with 20 points, six assists, four steals and four rebounds in 41 minutes. She also shot 10 for 11 from the free throw line.

After Hernandez’s injury, Konate described the ensuing team huddle as a “great sharing moment.”

“I felt like it went beyond basketball,” Konate said.

Konate had the deciding game of overtime, with a steal – after which she fell over a couple of chairs on the sidelines – to set up a layup by Deja Lee to put the Anteaters 61-56 ahead. Konate led UCI with six points and two steals in overtime.

“I actually didn’t see the chairs,” said Konate. “I just went to the ball. I just have to give it my all.”

A 3-pointer from Nikki Tom, her first field goal of the night, extended the lead to eight and provided the exclamation mark.

According to Konate, the anteaters were “angry but in a good way” in the overtime.

“With what we went through, everyone just wanted to play harder,” said Konate. “So we found more energy and blew it out.”

UCI missed nine of their last 10 field goal attempts normally, but Amelia Scharf’s open 5-foot shot from an inbounds pass leveled the score at 56-56 with nine seconds remaining.

At the other end, the Anteaters raved about UCSB’s Alexis Tucker, whose miss sent the game into overtime. UCI had played a stingy defense in the final minute, forcing a jump ball with 19 seconds left to gain possession that led to the tie basket.

Hernandez, who had 18 points in the final minutes of regulation, went down after being fouled on a drive to the basket with 30 seconds left. The sophomore guard (averaging 11.8 ppg and 5.7 rpg pregame) had nine points in the fourth quarter before the injury.

Noami Hunt (ACL) and Olivia Williams (knee) are the two UCI starters already eliminated for the season.

“A lot of people would have stopped and just let them win,” Inoue said. “This team, these players, they are special. That they climb up themselves and are there for each other and ride together – they will be very successful in life.”

“Because they just got a very difficult assignment that I couldn’t handle myself and they did it. And they won the game.”

The two teams went into the fourth quarter with 38 points. Konate kept UCI up in the third with a couple of layups – one with the foul and the second with a breakaway from a steal.

The first half was tight, with neither team leading by more than seven.

The Anteaters opened up an 11-4 lead behind seven quick points from Hernandez, but the Gauchos (16-8, 9-5) finished the quarter on a 10-2 run and went into the second quarter with a one-point lead.

https://www.ocregister.com/2023/02/15/uc-irvine-women-outlast-ucsb-in-ot-after-hunter-hernandezs-injury/ UC Irvine women outlast UCSB in OT after Hunter Hernandez injury – Orange County Register

Russell Falcon

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