The UCLA women’s basketball team came into the game Sunday knowing it carried its best record since the 1986-1987 campaign.
The Bruins were also aware of the Temple Owls’ shooting prowess, but only to a certain extent.
It took a switch to a man-to-man defense midway through the second half to stymie the Owls’ offense, and the Bruins raised the intensity in time to pass their second true test of the young season, winning 71-61.
Right off the opening tip, senior Temple guard Qwedia Wallace drained a 3 from the wing, but it was junior forward Kristen McCarthy who knocked down the majority of the Owls’ shots from beyond the arc, hitting five.
“When you’ve got McCarthy who is shooting the way she is, you have got to be able to close out on her, whether you are in man or in zone, and we were missing our defensive assignments,” coach Nikki Caldwell said.
Meanwhile, the No. 13 Bruins (4-0) struggled in the first half, missing their first six shots.
Things didn’t look like it would get any better for UCLA when junior forward Jasmine Dixon picked up her second foul with 11:45 remaining in the first half, and would be limited to 15 minutes because of an injury.
With Dixon out, junior guard Rebekah Gardner somewhat minimized the lack of an interior scoring threat, hitting a difficult runner in the lane before hitting two corner 3s to cut a Temple lead to 20-19.
The Bruins ended the half on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 35, thanks to senior guard Darxia Morris’ buzzer-beating 3 to send UCLA into halftime with a bit of momentum.
But McCarthy answered back after the break, scoring seven points in the first nine minutes of the second half.
“We need to play 40 minutes, and with intense defense we know we can win games by getting turnovers,” Morris said.
True to form, with the Bruins down 50-44, a switch to man-to-man defense and a ceaseless full-court pressure forced consistent stops and bottled up both McCarthy and Wallace, who were held scoreless for the last 11 minutes.
The defensive intensity translated to the offensive glass. In two minutes, the Bruins grabbed seven rebounds off their own backboard.
Led by Walker, who finished the game with 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists, UCLA clawed back into the game and took over.
“We picked (the defense) ourselves and told coach that we wanted to go man and that was the best way we can defend that type of team,” Walker said.