The joys of sightseeing may have been limitless in Hawaii, but by late Monday night, the UCLA women’s basketball team got what it was mainly looking for during its brief stay in the Aloha State.
No. 9 UCLA (10-0) warded off a late rally from East Carolina (4-6) in a momentum-shifting second half to win 81-67 at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo, Hawaii. The Bruins also previously defeated Hawai’i (4-5) 72-44 on Sunday, completing a two-game sweep of the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Shootout.
The Bruins had built a lofty 43-26 lead heading into halftime, thanks to a 9-2 run to close out the first half. But as the final 20 minutes progressed, that margin began to shrink and at one point turned into a narrow 70-64 lead on a made basket by the Lady Pirates’ junior center Jean Best.
But according to UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell, the officiating in the second half may have affected the flow of the game.
“The thing that was most challenging was the calls that were made that changed the momentum of the game,” Caldwell said. “East Carolina was doing what they needed to do to score the basketball and defend, but when we’re having an uphill battle and when we feel like certain calls need to be made, and then I’m telling my kids that they’ve got to adjust, it makes the game choppy and it didn’t allow us to play how we typically play.
“But I’m very proud of this team for being resilient and making the plays when they needed to and getting the stops when they had to as well.”
East Carolina went on to outscore UCLA 41-38 in the second half, but Bruin senior guard Doreena Campbell essentially sealed the win after sinking a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 74-64 with approximately two minutes left in the game.
Senior guard Darxia Morris had a team-high 16 points and redshirt sophomore forward Atonye Nyingifa poured in 13 of her own, just two of five Bruins who scored in double figures. Junior forward Jasmine Dixon and sophomore forward Markel Walker each recorded double-doubles, the former with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and the latter with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
It was the same kind of depth that UCLA displayed in its game against Hawai’i a day earlier. Senior forward Nina Earl came off the bench and led the way against the Rainbow Wahine with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting, with six rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal.
“Everybody’s been giving us good minutes off the bench,” Morris said. “That’s a good thing about us; we’re very versatile and we have a deep bench that can get up and give us some good minutes.”
And now, with two more wins in the books, the Bruins bid aloha to Hawaii, ready to return home with their record still unblemished.
“I’m definitely glad that this team was able to enjoy this experience,” Caldwell said. “Definitely, we took care of business when we needed to against two teams that never gave up and continued to fight extremely hard. Again, I’m pleased with where this team is, but there’s still more work to be done.”
UCLA returns to Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 28 to put its perfect record to the test against Louisiana State (8-4).