Locandro drops 34 as UC Irvine win thriller

Sophia Locandro’s run of recent form has been a joy to behold, but even so, the freshman’s efforts against Hawaii stood tallest amongst a cluster of outstanding performances in recent weeks.

The Anteaters had won four of their last five games to solidify their position in the middle of the Big West standings, but a win against Hawaii would give them a chance at the third or even second seeding for the conference tournament.

Despite a low-scoring opening term, Locandro was able to post six early points, fuelled by a rare three-pointer that opened the scoring. Fortunately, a first quarter that ended 12-10 proved not to set a trend as the scoring amped up in the second term as Locandro slowly began to assert herself on the contest. 12 first half points helped UC Irvine into a 31-26 halftime advantage, but the game remained well and truly in the balance as the teams headed to the locker room.

UC Irvine would need every point Locandro could offer them in the third quarter as Hawaii quickly overturned their halftime deficit. Tasmanian senior Courtney Middap buried a three to cap a 9-2 run to open the second half, and UC Irvine’s lead was gone even more quickly than they had established it. Only another 7 points from Locandro, almost half of their 17 from the term, kept the Anteaters in the contest as they trailed 54-48 with ten minutes to play.

19 points was already a decent haul of points for the freshman, but UC Irvine had a game to win, and only a dominant fourth quarter would secure victory as Hawaii looked to turn the screws. Locandro duly obliged, posting 8 points in the next three and a half minutes as the Anteaters broke off a 13-3 run to open the fourth quarter, with a three from fellow freshman Jayde Cadee thrown in for good measure. Hawaii responded with a three, but Locandro turned her attention to the defensive end with three blocks in 90 seconds to help her team out to an 8-point advantage.

However, Hawaii had one more charge in them, cutting the deficit to 68-66 before Locandro posted her 33rd and 34th points of the evening at the charity stripe. Shortly after, with the scoreboard reading 72-69 in UC Irvine’s favour, potential disaster struck as Hawaii were awarded three free throws with four seconds to play. Make. Make. Another make would tie the game and almost certainly result in overtime. Mercifully for Locandro, Cadee, and their Anteater teammates, the third free throw missed, and although Hawaii would regain possession with 0.3 seconds left, they were unable to get a shot off, leaving UC Irvine to celebrate a 72-71 victory.

Locandro was one of two players, alongside Hawaii’s Julissa Tago, to finish with 34 points, a career high for the freshman. Locandro has average 18.75 points across her last 8 appearances, elevating her season average from 7.6 to 10.8 points per game. Her 11 rebounds were also a career-high, leading to a second double-double but the first against Division I opposition. The game was also Locandro’s fourth with three or more blocks, and her 7th multi-block game in her last 8 appearances.

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Three other Aussies also played in this game, with Hawaii’s Courtney Middap leading the way with 13 points and 4 rebounds for the Rainbow Wahine. Teammate Amy Atwell added four points, whilst Anteaters’ freshman Jayde Cadee chipped in five points, including just her second two-point basket of the season to go with 47 threes for the campaign.

Austin Peay finished the regular season with a pair of wins, and had freshman Ella Sawyer to thank. Not only did the South Australian drop 21 points in a 70-65 win over Morehead State, Sawyer scored her side’s last 9 points of the contest, outscoring the Eagles 9-5 in the final 90 seconds of the contest in a thriller.

Austin Peay would go on dominate Murray State in their final regular season game, posting the biggest road win by either team in the history of the series, with Sawyer front and centre of the 88-59 demolition. The freshman buried a career-high 6 threes on 8 attempts, paving the way for a second career scoring mark in as many games with 26 points. The late wins saw the Governors finish seventh in the Ohio Valley Conference, having come into the weekend not even assured of a top-eight spot that would secure their berth in the conference tournament.

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It’s been a tough few weeks for Saint Mary’s, but Sam Simons continues to perform valiantly for a Gaels’ side that has now lost five on the trot. The South Australian posted an impressive 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists against Santa Clara on Thursday night, capping a late run with a last-second jumper to force overtime. Unfortunately for the Gaels, the Broncos kicked again in the extra period to secure a 94-87 win. Santa Clara’s own Aussies also impressed, with Tia Hay dishing 7 assists and Lana Hollingsworth posting a career-high 14 points, scoring that was perhaps unexpected but certainly welcomed in a tight contest.

The Gaels then faced San Francisco, with Simons again putting in an outstanding shift to finish with a team-high 19 points, including 6 of 6 at the charity stripe. However, Saint Mary’s were outrebounded 44-26, giving up 17 offensive boards and allowing the Dons 11 more field goal attempts than themselves in a 69-55 defeat. Mercifully, the Gaels will play bottom side Loyola Marymount in the opening round of the West Coast Conference Tournament, but will have to win five games in six days to secure a championship.

High-scoring outings have been few and far between for Lauren Calver in her senior season, but the Houston Baptist forward showcased her best in her penultimate home game against McNeese State. Despite being a reliable member of the rotation throughout her college career, Calver had yet to post a 20-point game. Coming into the fourth quarter against the Cowgirls, that looked unlikely to change as Calver had 10 points next to her name. However, 10 final quarter points, including the game-tying three with 37 seconds to play, delivered Calver a career-high 20 points and helped secure a 56-54 win following Kennedy Wilson’s last-second basket. But that wasn’t enough – not only did Calver post a career-high in points, her 6 assists also set a new high watermark for the senior who will have precious few opportunities to top those numbers.

Taylor Ortlepp had yet to post double figures this season for Boston College, but in a reminder of what she can produce, the senior stood tall in a crucial game against Syracuse. Ortlepp eclipsed her season high in every statistic except blocks in an 18-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist effort, burying 4 of 9 from deep in the process including one three that put the game just about out of reach at 83-75 with just over two minutes to play. The win also clinched the sixth seed in the ACC Tournament for the Eagles, a position that was by no means secure coming into the final weekend. With Boston College currently in ESPN Bracketology expert Charlie Crème’s Next Four Out, maintaining that spot could help the Eagles reel off a couple of bonus wins that knock them up the pecking order slightly at the best possible time.

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