Season ends for UCR women

The UC Riverside women’s basketball team concluded the 2008-09 season with a 64-51 loss to Creighton University in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Saturday evening at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha. The Bluejays improve to 22-11 and advance to the second round of the WNIT, while the Highlanders finish with a 19-12 overall record.

The first half was very reminiscent of UCR’s most recent game against Cal Poly, in which there were numerous tie scores and lead changes within the first 20 minutes of play. Creighton went up by as much as eight points at the 6:58 mark, but the Highlanders whittled the lead to three, 30-27, at the break.

Kemie Nkele led UCR in the first half with 10 points and nine rebounds, including a last second layup at the buzzer. The Highlanders saw a 17-15 lead at the 9:21 mark turn into a 10-0 Bluejay run, giving Creighton their largest lead of the half.

UC Riverside, who averages just 14.4 turnovers per game, committed 12 in the first half alone as the Bluejays were able to capitalize on UCR’s miscues by converting 20 points off turnovers. The Highlanders were also outrebounded, 19-16, but most importantly gave up six more boards on the offensive glass, giving Creighton seven second chance points compared to UCR’s one.

In the second half the Bluejays drained 4-of-5 three-pointers and opened up a double-digit lead on multiple occasions. The Highlanders closed the gap to nine points, 51-42, with 7:33 remaining in the game, but could get no closer as the Bluejays held on for the win.

Nkele led the Highlanders with 18 points and 12 rebounds, her seventh double-double on the season and the 45th of her career. Seyram Gbewonyo added 10 points, Roney Friend had eight, Tainoisouti Lott contributed six, Chanel Foster had five, and Alyssa Morris added four.

For the game the Highlanders shot 42.9 percent from the floor but just 21.4 percent from beyond the arc. Conversely, Creighton shot 41.4 percent from the field but hit 50.0 percent of their long balls.

This was UCR’s first postseason WNIT appearance, but third postseason in the last four years. Creighton is 21-5 all-time in the WNIT, including a 2003 Final Four berth and a 2004 WNIT Championship.

The Highlanders say goodbye to eight seniors, each of whom have given so much to the UC Riverside women’s basketball program. Compiling a 70-54 record the last four years, the Highlanders won two Big West Conference Championships, went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, and competed in the postseason in three of four years.

This season alone, UCR tallied a school-best 13-game win streak; had a school-best 14-2 conference record; and defeated their first top-25 opponent in a 50-47 win over then-No. 16 Vanderbilt back in December. Their 19 wins on the season also tied the record for the second-most wins in school history.

Nkele concludes her career as the all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots, and finishes 130 points away from the top spot in total points. Four different Highlanders also rank among the top-10 in multiple categories including games played, games started, rebounds, assists, field goals, and blocked shots.