BYU vs UC Irvine – 9:00 PM
BYU hit their first real speed bump in 2013 on Thursday night in Eugene, as they stumbled to a 0-0 draw against an Oregon side that’s proving to be a pain to play if nothing else thus far. Jennifer Rockwood’s side hadn’t really run into much resistance in its first four matches, easily pulling past Cal State Fullerton, Nebraska, and LSU before a tense and tenacious derby win over Utah in Provo. But tasked with a trip to the Pacific Northwest and absent suspended forward Jaiden Thornock, BYU’s offense sputtered, unable to find a way through the Duck defense, despite center forward Ashley Hatch having a strong game with four shots on goal. The defense didn’t exactly put on a clinic either, giving up nineteen shots, though they still limited Oregon to just five shots on goal, four saved by goalkeeper Erica Owens and one cleared off the line. BYU’s non-conference schedule isn’t of such strength that they’re going to be able to have too many slips if they want to keep their hopes of a high national seed alive, so they really need to get back in the win column on Saturday against a UC Irvine team that probably sees them as a potential gateway to a possible at-large bid come Selection Monday. It’s probably going to be that way a few more times before WCC play too, as Long Beach State and Denver will likely have similar ambitions in the coming weeks.
Irvine have had an up and down season thus far, and Saturday night may well be a crossroads game for Scott Juniper’s side in 2013. The Anteaters have generally been able to beat lesser opponents but have fallen short when big scalps such as Cal, Denver, and San Diego have been there for the taking, including single goal losses to the latter two. UCI did manage to go on the road and beat the two Oregon Pac-12 teams this past week…but that may not mean much, as neither side looks like they’ll be a huge factor in the RPI come the end of the season. With BYU and Washington State left on the non-conference docket, UCI might just stand a prayer of a chance of an at-large bid if they can beat one, or more likely, beat both. Just as important, a win in Provo, a place where BYU hasn’t lost in the regular season since October 29, 2011. BYU also is unbeaten in the regular season in their past twenty-two, both imposing marks but not likely to faze the Anteaters “anyone, any time, any place” attitude. UCI will count on Natalia Ledezma and Laura McGrail to try and trouble the BYU defense, with both having netted twice thus far in 2013. However, getting into a firefight with the Cougars in Provo is almost always a recipe for defeat, and UCI will likely want to keep it tight in hopes of returning home with a smash-and-grab win.