After a rough start to the season, the UC Santa Cruz women’s basketball team rebounded to win against Occidental College 63–62 on Jan. 7, riding captain Ryane Ortiz’s career-high 23 points to a close victory.
The win improves the Slugs to an 11–4 record, the hottest start of Coach Todd Kent’s three seasons at UCSC. After the game, he attributed the win to strong bench play, tough defense and guard Ortiz, one-third of the team’s captains, along with forward Sarah Mackey and forward Leah Parrish.
“[Ortiz is] like the last piece of the puzzle for us to win,” Kent said.
Ortiz is shooting for a breakout season in her junior year. While she is the team’s second leading scorer at 10.6 points per game behind Sarah Mackey’s 13.4 per game, Kent said Ortiz best exemplifies the type of game which does not show up in a box score.
In a two minute stretch in the first half against Occidental, Ortiz showed off her polished game by attracting three fouls, playing stern help in defense and scoring off a quick steal. On defense, she actively boxed out bigger players and cleared space for her teammates to grab rebounds, while on offense she forced Occidental into a quick timeout with her slashing to the hoop.
Kent said Ortiz sets the type of example that the team can always count on.
“I really believe we’re 13 players deep, but it’s the little things that get us sometimes,” Kent said. “[Ryane] takes pride in doing those smaller things to help the team win.”
By both her teammates and coaches, Ortiz has been praised as a leader. This season, Ortiz has jumped in scoring, steals and rebounds according to official NCAA statistics. Guard Geena Giovannetti said Ortiz’s improved game has been a result of consistent hard work.
“She’s the first one in and the last one out of the gym,” Giovannetti said. “And we definitely, definitely all look to her.”
The team has split the last two games since starter Sarah Mackey left due to a kidney infection. Ortiz said this is because she and the team have stepped up to fill the 6-foot tall forward’s shoes temporarily.
“We weren’t playing well the last game, and we had a meeting,” Ortiz said. “I pretty much decided then and there that we are going to the playoffs no matter what.”
Ortiz said her leadership is strong because of her empathy toward her teammates. Giovannetti said Ortiz is the “chatterbox” of practice and that everyone is always looking to her for comfort.
“It sounds cliched, but I always think that the best thing I can do is empower my teammates,” Ortiz said. “I just try to get everyone playing the best they can.”
Coach Kent said the team’s talents can be placed on more than just a few players, but that much of the praise he has received can be placed on the work of his captains.
“Everyone is playing better on defense now, and we’re so close to being a really good team,” Kent said. “Ryane will be a big part of it when we get there.”
The UC Santa Cruz women’s basketball team will play Cal St. Maritime Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. at the West Field House.