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'Eaters' senior on point

McCalister's ability to take charge helps UCI earn No. 3 seed in Big West Tournament.

March 05, 2012|By Barry Faulkner

College basketball had been tough enough for Kassandra McCalister. Injuries, personal tragedy and a change of schools all contributed to four years and three collegiate seasons that were considerably less satisfying than her charmed high school career.

Then, before her senior campaign with the UC Irvine women's team, things seemed to get progressively worse.

Offseason turmoil saw two top players pared from the roster that already had a cavernous void left by the graduation of All-Big West Conference point guard Jade Smith-Williams.

Still, McCalister, a 5-foot-9 guard, chose to focus on the possibilities. But her imagination was not vivid enough then to envision the challenge and fulfillment that would lay ahead.

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A shooting guard who found comfort on the wing, the Oregon State transfer, one of only two seniors on a squad picked to finish sixth in the nine-team Big West, soon found herself taking a crash course in running the point from Coach Molly Goodenbour.

Goodenbour, the point guard on two NCAA championship teams at Stanford in the early 1990s, eventually realized that McCalister's refined sense of the game, offensive skills, and a toughness forged by competitive zeal and having overcome adversity, made her the most logical option in whom to entrust the ball, as well as the Anteaters' fate.

Though there was an adjustment period that lasted for more than half of the schedule, McCalister has emerged as both a productive and trusted leader. That leadership helped the 'Eaters (13-16, 9-7 in conference) tie for third in the regular-season standings and claim the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament that begins Tuesday at home at 7 p.m. against No. 6-seeded UC Santa Barbara.

McCalister, who helped Archbishop Mitty High win four CIF Central Coast Section championships and a CIF state Division II crown as a senior in 2006-07, has led UCI in scoring (13.7 points per game) and assists (four per contest), while also adding 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per outing. She was named first-team All-Big West on Monday.

"I think Kassandra has had a fantastic senior year," said Goodenbour, whose blend of encouragement and constructive criticism has accelerated McCalister's impressive transition. "Fortunately for us, she was able to adapt and play the point guard position when she had to do that for us. She has given everything she's had this year."

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