UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close thanked a home crowd of 6,057 before, midway, and after the game while competing against their rivals in Southern California Friday night at Pauley Pavilion.
The energy was certainly felt by the Bruins players, as No.8 UCLA (18-4, 9-2 Pac-12) fed off it, enforcing a stifling defense that led to a 59-46 victory over USC (15-7, 5-6 Pac-12), in their first matchup before a rematch at the Galen Center Feb. 5.
“We had a great crowd that came out, I thought, when we hit some lulls, I really thought our crowd was a huge piece,” Close said. “Obviously, there’s lots to talk about for the game, but I’m really thankful for growing the game in Southern California, that was really fun.”
The Trojans came into the game averaging 70 points per game, but the Bruins energetic zone defense forced USC into contested jumpers, resulting in 23 missed shots through 20 minutes of play.
Aside from clamping down the Trojans on the offensive end, UCLA also outrebounded USC 48-33.
“Defensive rebounding, thank goodness for that because we didn’t play very well offensively,” Close added. “I didn’t think we played the kind of (up-tempo) style we should’ve played and needed to play, especially when we got so many stops. We should’ve got the transition game going. I think we let the zone and late shots in the shot clock lull us to sleep a little bit.”
Senior guard Jordin Canada, who is currently on the Wooden Award midseason watch list, scored 16 points to go along with nine assists.
Fellow senior forward Monique Billings recorded her 40th double-double of her career with 14 points and 16 rebounds, playing a huge role for Bruins controlling the glass.
“It’s hard to contain them athletically,” USC coach Mark Trakh said. “It is very, very difficult game planning … we did as well as we could, but (Billings and Canada) are two of the best players in the country.
The Bruins definitely did not have their best day offensively, shooting 35.7 percent from the field, also committing 14 turnovers.
However, the Bruins forced USC into committing 11 turnovers, which allowed UCLA to get easy transition baskets.
“I think the biggest reason is this one over here, Kelli (Hayes),” Canada said of her fellow senior teammate, who added 11 points and seven rebounds, making three of seven shots from three-point distance. “She brings that voice that we need in the zone. She’s talking every possession. It helps me, even though she’s playing the 4. I hear her 24-7. She brings that energy we need in the 2/3 zone. And us being able to talk and be aggressive.”
Coach Close also spoke highly of Hayes, knowingly she does not receive as much attention, due to Canada and Billings.
“(Canada) gets a lot of attention, and deservedly so, but anyone on our team will tell you that (senior guard) Kelli (Hayes) is our glue,” Close said. “Day in and day out, she makes everyone better. She gathers the team, she has their respect … without her, and (Billings and Canada) don’t get to do what they do.”
UCLA started the game on a 10-0 run, forcing two turnovers right away in USC’s first four possessions, which gave them breathing room in a hard-fought low scoring game.
The Trojans deficit swelled to as much as 18 points in second quarter, 33-15, after the Bruins went on another strong 15-4 run.
USC would not go away however, cutting down the lead to only nine points at 42-33 on a Kristen Simon basket just moments before the third-quarter buzzer sounded.
Simon finished the night with a game-high 15 points and 12 rebounds, but the Trojans were outscored 17-13 in the final quarter of play.
“We’ve just got to be more patient,” Trakh said. “We’ve got to be more selective. My assistant kept on saying we needed to be more selective and patient and I said we just passed the ball 20 times and no one could get an open shot. You only have 30 seconds. A lot of it was their defense. We’ve got to pass the ball, spread them and attack off the dribble.”
USC sophomore guard Minyon Moore also finished in double-digits for the Trojans, adding 10 points, four assists and four rebounds.
“I think just putting the ball in the basket honestly,” said Moore on making adjustments going forward.
“I think we just need to stick together, odds weren’t really against us, but things just weren’t going our way.”