IRVINE — When the longest winning streak in the last five seasons has been three games, winning two straight can constitute being in "the zone."
Playing a zone, in fact, was largely responsible for helping UC Irvine defeat Northern Colorado, 66-52, in a nonconference women's basketball game Friday at the Bren Events Center.
It was the second consecutive triumph for UCI (2-3), matching the longest stretch of prosperity under third-year coach Molly Goodenbour, who has now overseen four two-game winning streaks.
The Anteaters, who began a swing of four straight home games Friday, will try to extend their current run of good fortune Monday against Wyoming at 7 p.m.
UCI's active 2-1-2 zone defense helped create 23 turnovers Friday, including eight during the final 13 minutes of the first half, when the hosts outscored the Bears, 17-5, to turn a 12-9 deficit into a nine-point halftime cushion.
Northern Colorado (2-4) never got closer than six as junior Mikah Maly-Karros collected 16 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and two steals to lead the winners.
Junior Kiara Belen chipped in a career-high 16 points to go with four rebounds, while sophomore Jazmyne White made seven of nine field-goal attempts to finish with a career-high 14 points for the 'Eaters.
Senior point guard Jade Smith-Williams had six points, a team-best three assists, as well as three steals, while sophomore Cheyenne Cathey, who sank one of two three-point tries and is now four for six from three-point range this season, also scored seven points for the winners.
The news was not all good for UCI, which had 18 turnovers and, in one stretch of just more than two minutes late in the contest, was outscored, 12-2, to allow the Bears to close to within 59-48 with 2:47 remaining.
"It was what I was afraid it would be, but we definitely got away with one there," Goodenbour said. "The last couple of years, we have not played very well coming back after the Thanksgiving holiday. I was afraid we would let down, which we did. Northern Colorado is a good enough and scrappy enough team to beat you when you're not prepared to play. We talked about it before the game, at halftime and after the game. "
Goodenbour said her zone defense, which did not surface much at all last season, has become a strength.
"The zone is going to be a stalwart for us, I think," Goodenbour said. "It has been effective and I think our kids like playing it, especially when we have [Belen and White] at the top of it. It's an extended 2-1-2 with ball pressure and we trap when we can in the corners. We have a little bit of trouble rebounding out of it sometimes."
UCI posted a 37-35 rebounding edge, following up a 47-39 surplus in Tuesday's 67-63 road win against San Diego State. UCI was outrebounded in each of its first three games.
"We've been going over film, so we're getting better at it," said White, who noted the two recent wins has helped build team confidence.
"Lately, our coach has been telling us that we can step onto the court with swagger," White said. "She tells us not to be arrogant, but be confident and play hard."
Goodenbour said Maly-Karros, White and Belen did just that Friday.
Goodenbour also praised the leadership of Smith-Williams, whose 10.4 per-game scoring average is second on the team behind Maly-Karros (19.6).
White, the Big West Conference Freshman of the Year last season when she averaged 4.7 points and 6.9 rebounds, came into Friday having made just six of 27 field-goal attempts this season. But with a deft left-hand jump hook in the lane, one 18-foot baseline jumper and another 10-foot strike against the Bears, she exhibited the hard work she has put into her offense during the off-season.
UCI sank 26 of 31 free throws, including 10 of 10 from Maly-Karros. Smith-Williams, Cathey, freshman Kelly Meggs and senior Raquel Theus all netted both of their foul shots.
UNC made 13 of 20 free-throw attempts in a game that featured 43 fouls.