Defend the Bren, a marketing slogan turned rallying cry for the UC Irvine men's basketball team last season, has already been rendered useless by Coach Russell Turner's Anteaters, who have dropped half of their six home games.
But at least one UCI basketball unit can still give authenticity to the phrase.
Coach Doug Oliver's UCI women's team defeated visiting New Mexico State, 75-52, in a nonconference game Wednesday to improve to 2-0 at the Bren Events Center this season.
It broke a string of nine straight road contests for the Anteaters (6-5), who topped South Dakota in the season opener at home on Nov. 10. And with two more road contests to close out December, the UCI women will enter the Jan. 2 home game against La Verne with something to protect.
"As a coach, you are always looking for a hook," said Oliver after senior Camille Buckley produced a career-high 24 points and added 11 rebounds to give her six double-doubles this season. "Last year, the [UCI] men did ride the "Defend the Bren," thing [theyt were 9-0 in the Bren during conference play and 13-1 at home overall, including games at Crawford Court]. And, because of our schedule, with so few home games, it's something that we're going to try to take to heart and utilize. We could start feeling good about ourselves in the Bren."
Buckley, who had a then-career-high 22 points to go with 10 rebounds in the previous game at Sacramento State, was feeling good once again against the Aggies (3-7), who are coached by former Pepperdine and USC head man Mark Trakh. Orange County fans may also remember Trakh, whose brother Maz is a former UCI men's assistant, for his successful tenure at Brea Olinda High.
Buckley made seven of 10 field-goal attempts and was 10 for 11 from the foul line, while also single-handedly besting the visitors in offensive rebounds, 5-4.
"We can isolate her well enough to give her that one little move to split people or whatever," Oliver said of the powerful and determined 6-foot-1 post. "And she's just relentless on the boards."
The same could be said of the entire UCI roster, as the hosts amassed a 49-28 advantage on the glass, including 19 offensive boards that led to 19 second-chance points and contributed to a 32-18 edge in points in the paint.
UCI's defensive pressure, which included some full-court trapping schemes that Oliver said were as extensive as his team has used this season, helped force 18 turnovers. And when it wasn't resulting in miscues, it was aggravating the Aggies, who seemed to have little comfort with any offensive strategy that did not end in a layup or a three-point attempt.
New Mexico State, which rallied from an 18-5 deficit to close within 30-27 late in the opening half, hit a three-pointer to open the second half that cut UCI's lead to 35-31. But a 15-3 run by the Anteaters, including buckets from five different players and six points from Buckley, put the hosts back in control for good.
UCI added spurts of 11-0 and 12-2 down the stretch to easily produce its most lopsided win of the season. It was, in fact, UCI's biggest margin of victory since a 25-point home drubbing of Long Beach State on Feb. 2, 2012.
Senior Jasmine Bernard came off the bench to contribute 12 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, while senior Jazmyne White had 10 rebounds and 11 defensive deflections to go with a team-best five assists and 10 points at the other end.
"I thought [White] was exceptional on defense," said Oliver, who also praised the defensive pressure applied by senior guard Kelly Meggs and Jennifer Tsurumoto.
Junior Methlyn Onomoguho produced a team-leading four steals and also used her quickness, length and anticipation to disrupt passing lanes all night. She also had six points and five rebounds.
Nine players scored for UCI, which will have to do without the services of sophomore Mokun Fajemisin (torn ACL) and freshman Brittany Glassow (broken ankle) for the rest of the season, Oliver said.
UCI returns to action at San Diego (10-0), on Friday at 6 p.m.
UC Irvine 75, New Mexico State 52
NMS – Tyler 0, Weber 12, Williamson 10, Garner 7, Scott 0, Mack 14, Freeman 8, William 1.
3-pt. goals – Weber 3, Williamson 2, Mack 2, Garner 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Buckley 24, White 4, Tsurumoto 8, Spinazze 9, Meggs 5, Bernard 12, Onomoguho 6, Aguilar 4, McKenney 3.
3-pt. goals – Spinazze 2, Meggs 1, Aguilar 1, McKenney 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – UCI, 35-28.