ANAHEIM — The six remaining seniors in uniform for the UC Irvine women's basketball team played their final three games in socks that displayed the skyline of their native region. It was a fitting gesture for an Anteaters' team that played, by any measure, well above the clouds all season long.
The Anteaters (17-15), picked to finish eighth in the nine-team Big West Conference, fell to top-seeded Cal State Northridge, 78-60, in the semifinals of the conference tournament on Friday at Honda Center.
The 17 wins were the most since the 2002-03 'Eaters finished 17-12, and Coach Doug Oliver's No. 4-seeded squad produced the first Big West Tournament win in nine seasons (spanning eight trips). The semifinal appearance was the program's first since 2003 and only the fourth in its last 29 seasons.
And all this came without two injured starters — including fifth-year senior Jazmyne White — a trend that left Oliver with only nine available players down the stretch.
"I'm very proud of this year and what we accomplished," said Oliver, in his second season at the helm. [Camille Buckley, Jennifer Tsurumoto] and the other five seniors set the bar for our program."
Buckley, whose 34 points and 17 rebounds keyed an overtime quarterfinal win against UC Davis, produced her 19th double-double of the season Friday with 16 points and 13 rebounds. But 10 of those points came from the free-throw line as a double-teaming defensive scheme helped the Matadors limit her to three-for-12-shooting from the floor.
Buckley — who averaged a double-double in conference play and amassed 19 double-doubles on the season, including each of her final nine games — missed her first eight field-goal tries. She netted her first basket with 12:51 remaining. The first-team All-Conference performer also had a team-best four steals.
Tsurumoto, whom Oliver called one of the toughest, most competitive players he has been around, led UCI with 17 points. She converted five of 10 shots from the field and five of six from the foul line.
But Buckley and Tsurumoto, as well as White, starting guards Kelly Meggs and Lauren Spinazze, and key reserves Jasmine Bernard and Vanessa Aguilar, will all turn in their uniform for good.
"It's going to be a long time before we have a player in our pogrom that can produce game-in and game-out like [Buckley] has," Oliver said. "I don't know if we ever will. Her 19 double-doubles this year are amazing. She's 5-foot-11 [not the listed 6-1), but she goes and gets the ball. I've only been around a couple people in 40 years of coaching that had that knack . It was fun to watch her."
Buckley said she is proud of UCI's strong season and that she has no regrets.
"We were picked to finish eighth in the conference and we were the underdog," said Buckley, who played two seasons at UCI after transferring from Loyola Marymount. "Nobody expected a lot from us, but we proved them wrong. Today wasn't our best performance."
It was UCI's first loss in three games this season against the regular-season conference champions (17-12), who changed their defense to focus on Buckley, Coach Jason Flowers said.
"I hadn't done a very good job putting our kids in place to be successful," Flowers, a former UCI men's basketball player, said of his decision to make a smaller post player the primary defender against Buckley and provide support from 6-2 center Camille Mahlknecht, who had six blocks to up her school single-season record to 99. "The kids did a great job executing the program."
"The first two times we played them, they did not send a second defender to [Buckley]," Oliver said. "But they did that at a high level today and we didn't react. We stood on the perimeter a little and we were just stagnant offensively. It wasn't our best effort, But Northridge should be given all the credit."
UCI, which came in having won three in a row and five of its last six, shot 30.2% from the field and just 19% from three-point range (four for 21). UCI's 13 turnovers were three fewer than the Matadors, but the 'Eaters were bested, 45-34, in rebounding.
Northridge shot 53.8% in the second half to finish at 48.3% for the game.
"I don't like to say we overachieved, but you can and some have," Oliver said. "But we maximized what we were for a long period of time. As a group, we did a lot of good things and played a lot of good basketball."
Junior guard Ashlee Guay, the Big West Player of the Year, had 15 of her 24 points after halftime and she added six assists, six steals and four rebounds to lead the winners.