WASHINGTON, DC – Costly turnovers in the final five-and-a-half minutes of regulation proved too much to overcome for the Firebirds as they dropped their season home opener to the University of Puerto Rico at Bayamon, 62-57 in front of a packed house for Homecoming Week and the home debut of head coach Juan Dixon at UDC Sports Complex Wednesday night.
The Firebirds (0-3) were led by their senior captain guard Shantrel Oliver, who scored a career-high 19 points on 6-of-16 FG shooting and 4-of-5 from the foul line. Oliver, who's four-point play on a three-pointer and the foul kept it a one-possession game, 60-57 with 43 seconds left, also registered three rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Bianca White came off the bench to put on a show in her collegiate home debut for the Firebirds as she poured in 16 points on 5-of-12 from the field (4-of-7 long range) while also contributing three rebounds, a game-high three steals and one assist.
Still, UDC as a team was out-shot 48-percent (21-of-44) to 31-percent (20-of-64) from the field and 44-percent (10-of-23) to 28-percent (7-of-25) from behind-the-arc. Turnovers plagued both teams (UPRB 27, UDC 25), but the Cowgirls had a narrow, 29-27 advantage in points off of turnovers.
UPRB featured two scorers in double-figures – Anelisse Vargas with a game-high 26 points, and Daneishka Canales with 16 points. Vargas shot a red-hot 10-of-14 from the field and 5-of-9 from long range, and Canales shot 4-of-10 from the field and made 3-of-5 from three-point range.
In the first half, the Firebirds trailed by as many as 11 in the 2nd quarter before a 14-2 run in the final 7:50 brought UDC within one, 26-25, at intermission. UPRB opened the 3rd quarter on an 8-0 run, highlighted by two three-pointers by Vargas, the 2nd of which put the Cowgirls ahead, 34-25. But a three-pointer by Oliver kick-started an 11-0 response by UDC, culminating in four straight free-throws by freshman guard Nyasia Anderson (6 pts) to give the Firebirds their first lead of the night at the 6-minute mark, 36-34.
UDC would lead for just the 2nd time of the night when freshman guard Tyra Coombs snagged a loose ball rebound under the hoop and dropped in an easy two to put UDC ahead, 48-46 at the 7:05 mark in the 4th quarter. A three-pointer by UPRB's Genesis Pagan on the ensuing possession, however, ignited an 8-2 run by the Cowgirls, during which they capitalized for three points on three UDC turnovers to pull in front to stay, 54-50.
UDC cut that deficit to 54-53 after a three-pointer from the corner by White just past the four-minute mark, and following a missed Cowgirl jumper at the other end, the Firebirds had an opportunity to take the lead with 3:30 remaining. But another Firebirds turnover resulted in a Pagan steal and a Vargas fast-break layup to put the visitors up three, 56-53. UDC, which went on to commit five turnovers in the final 5:30 of regulation, went on to lose by a five-point margin.
The Firebirds, still seeking their first win of the Juan Dixon head coaching era, will visit non-conference East Region opponent Southern Connecticut State on Saturday, November 19th at 1 p.m. The game will be played at Hubbel Gym on the campus of the University of Bridgeport.