Coming off of the Mountain West tournament loss to UNLV, the Lady Aztecs season continued Friday night with Big West Champion UC Irvine, who came into Viejas with a 24-6 record. This is the first meeting since the 2020 matchup when UC Irvine won 66-55.
The Aztecs last game finished in a very competitive outing against the 21st-ranked UNLV Rebels team, who are in this year’s Big Dance. The Aztecs came into this game with 23 wins and a third-place finish in conference play. In the past two years, the Aztecs’ victories have added up to 23 within those two seasons.
The Aztecs drew first blood with an outlet pass from floor general Asia Avinger to forward Yummy Morris. The Anteaters followed with a three-pointer of themselves to take their first lead of the game, 3-2. Avinger, the next possession, got a right-hand drive to the basket with some contact to take back the lead, 4-3.
Avinger came into the NIT as the second-leading scorer on the team with 11.8 ppg. Shooting guard Sophia Ramos, the leading scorer for the Red and Black, got herself five points in the first five minutes of the game with a three off an assist from Avinger and a left-hand layup.
SDSU, in the half-court, looked to attack the low post off of UCI’s zone defense early. Doing so actually helped stretch the floor for the Aztecs to start the game shooting 40% from behind the arc.
The Anteaters attempted to go fast offensively, but the Aztecs’ transition defense prevented them from scoring early in the possession. Some costly turnovers from SDSU allowed UC Irvine to remain in the game. A three, late in the shot clock by UCI’s Nyagoa Gony, brought the deficit to three, 12-15, with the Aztecs leading after the first quarter.
The Anteaters started the second quarter by going to their size advantage down low with a post-entry bucket by Gony. The Anteaters capitalized off SSDSU’smissed layups as they started the quarter on a 10-2 run over the first two and a half minutes. The Aztecs put an end to that run with a short corner jumper by Morris.
Avinger checked back into the game, looking to control the Aztec’s offense, but ended up picking up her second foul a few possessions later. Ramos also picked up her second foul halfway through the second quarter. They were the only Aztecs in foul trouble.
The Aztecs missed their first four three-pointers in the second quarter after making half of them to begin the game. SDSU took the lead back with 3:36 left in the half, going on a 6-0 run after two timely turnovers from UCI. The Red and Black’s defense caused UCI to turn the ball over 14 times in the opening half. With aggressive defense, the officials sent the Anteaters to the line five times compared to two for the Aztecs.
Both teams traded buckets toward the end of the 1st half, with a mid-range jumper by Alex Crain. Not long after, UCI’s Deja Lee put the Anteaters back up one with a corner three-pointer just before the final buzzer.
SDSU trailed 28-27, heading to the locker room. Going away from post touches that served them well early, the Aztecs missed all of their jumpers from downtown in the second quarter and shot 36.4% overall in the first half.
Mercedes Staples led the Red and Black with seven points, followed by Ramos and Morris. They had five apiece. Anteater’s Deja Lee led both teams with a game-high 13 points, shooting 5-7 without missing any of her three three-pointers in her first-half performance. UCI won the rebounding battle at the half 19-15.
The Aztecs threw the first punch to start the 3rd quarter with a three-pointer made by Staples to punish the Anteaters, who remained in their zone defense. Amelia Scharpf responded on the other end to even the score at 30. Avinger drove to the basket and scored but was called for an offensive foul by the officials as Nikki Tom took the charge. The officials called for a media timeout to review the play and later confirmed the call as they returned to action.
Irvine’s sideline out-of-bounds play was rejected by SDSU’s Morris, UCI remained in possession, and Nikki Tom drained a deep three to take the lead 33-30. After getting a stop on the other end, UCI’s Konate dribbles around defense as she finishes high off the glass with her right hand to give the Anteaters a five-point advantage more than halfway through the 3rd quarter.
SDSU’s Terry-Hutson decided she had seen enough and called her first timeout of the game. Out of the timeout, Staples made another three-pointer to bring the Aztecs within one possession.
The Anteaters responded back with back-to-back mid-range jump shots to maintain their lead and keep their playoff hopes alive. UCI’s center Neveah Parkinson spinned to her left shoulder nicely to float the ball over the defender Morris. SDSU , down six, started to attack the basket and got to the charity stripe as Villalobos knocked down both her free throws and gave Parkinson her third foul of the game. The Aztecs could not get anything in the half-court setting as they ended the 3rd quarter trailing by six, 43-37.
The Anteaters shot the ball very efficiently this game as Konate dished out a dime to the corner to Scharpf for her first triple of the game. Chasing eight now, SDSU brings Avinger back in the game with four fouls, looking to turn things around offensively. Khylee Pepe brings the deficit to six after she scored a layup in the paint. SDSU getting everything they want, but the ball just would not fall in for them. Deja Lee’s layup put the Anteaters back up eight with under four minutes to go in a win-or-go-home game for both teams.
Right out of the media timeout, Staples banged in a three from the right wing, which ended the Aztecs scoring drought. The Anteaters walked the ball up the court to control the clock in their favor, with12 seconds left on the shot clock Deja Lee scored a long jumper assisted by Konate to add to her great night. With over a little over two minutes to play, SDSU began to pressure full court with hopes of causing any more turnovers for the Anteaters.
Avinger delivered a free throw line jumper to bring the game five. The Aztecs decided to not foul instantly and play half-court defense. As time began to decrease, UCI got a ppost-touchto Parkinson who scored a layup with over a minute left in the Aztec’s season. Getting nothing on the other end, SDSU started to play the foul game to stop the clock, Konate sealed the deal at the line after hitting one out of her two foul shots, putting the Anteaters up 54-45 with 40 seconds left in the game.
The narrative of basketball is put the brown thing in the round thing could not be any more true of a statement when one looks back and watch this game. The Anteaters had more turnovers than SDSU but shot the ball better than the Aztecs. Irvine shot 40% total, while the Aztecs shot 29% for the game.
“It’s always disappointing when you end this way because we know we didn’t play our best basketball, but I don’t want that to diminish the season that we had; it’s a really good season,” Aztec head coach Terry-Hutson said, reflecting on the season. “A lot of memorable moments, it’s a great group of girls, and it’s a pleasure to be their coach.”
Telling the East Village Times, she continued, “we got a good group, they bought in, and they really tried to do what we asked of them all season. I feel really bad for the kids that are done in the locker room because we were hoping that we can play a couple more games, but again, proud of our effort, proud of our fight, we just didn’t make shots tonight.”
SDSU’s preparation was not enough, as the coach said, “Nothing worked. That’s the most disappointing piece is everything that we prepared for; we had some really great practices leading up to this game, but when you shoot the ball like we did tonight. It just put so much pressure on our defense to hold them to 55 points is enough defensively, but we just could not see the ball go in the basket. That’s really what it goes down to, teams win in March when they make baskets, and we didn’t make enough tonight.”
Coach Terry-Hutson credited UC Irvine, “We pride ourselves on the defensive end, and I thought we did a good job tonight, they made some tough shots that they hadn’t made all year. Kudos to them, they made baskets down the stretch. They had a great game plan, they slowed us down and literally dared us to make jump shots, and we didn’t make enough.”
Mercedes Staples shared her thoughts on her final game as an Aztec, “Thankful that my teammates helped me, not the way we wanted it to end. I’m just grateful for playing with them and them finding me for open shots. This is the best group since I’ve been here, so I’m just proud of everyone. Everyone brought their fight every single day, just them being there and showing up that’s all that mattered. I’m just very happy that I was able to play with them and have a good season.”
Mercedes Staples led the Red and Black with 16 points of her own, but it was not enough as the Aztec’s season came to an end with a 55-45 loss to UC Irvine, who will play the University of San Diego in their second round matchup in the Women’s NIT. Deja Lee would finish the game with a game-high 18 points, four points shy of her season-high (22). SDSU will cap off their best year of 23-11, their first winning record in 10 years.
San Diego Christian College Alum
Bachelors of Arts in Communications with emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism.
22 years old