BERKELEY “”mdash; Thursday didn’t quite consist of the shock-the-country performance the Bruins were hoping to deliver.
Indeed, the last time UCLA took the court, it lost by double digits to a tough Stanford team, bringing its five-game winning streak to a sudden halt.
But a quick trip to the Bay Area seemed to be all that the No. 8 UCLA women’s basketball team (16-2, 6-1 Pac-10) needed to get back on track as it beat California (11-7, 3-4) 65-56 in Haas Pavilion on Saturday.
“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to at Stanford, and we knew in this game we had to come out and be efficient on offense and defense,” senior guard Darxia Morris said.
Morris, who had a career-high 22 points, set the tone for the Bruins the whole way by knocking down shots and igniting a successful 3-point attack. Morris and fellow senior guard Doreena Campbell combined to score 12 points from beyond the arc on 40 percent shooting.
“I was in a zone, and the team did a good job of getting me the ball,” Morris said.
Even though the game featured no lead changes, the Bears stayed within striking distance and never let the Bruins’ lead seem like it was enough.
With 57 seconds left and UCLA leading 60-54, Cal’s sophomore guard Eliza Pierre dribbled across the floor uncontested until she arrived at the net, where she drew contact and made her flailing, and-one layup attempt to bring the Bears within four.
But her ensuing free throw was no good, and even after Cal was awarded the ball on an alternate possession after the struggle for the rebound, the Bears could not convert.
UCLA sophomore forward Atonye Nyingifa stole the inbounds pass and after a quick foul by the Bears, iced the game by making her free throws.
“They’re prepared for late game,” UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said of her players. “I thought they did a great job. We’ve been struggling from the free-throw line … and they answered the call. They can now take this with them and know when the game is on the line: “˜I can make free throws.’”
The Bears’ late-game surge was in large part due to their play in the paint, where sophomore forward DeNesha Stallworth scored most of her 22 points. Going toe-to-toe with Stallworth was UCLA’s junior forward Jasmine Dixon, who had a solid night by pouring in 10 points and pulling in eight rebounds. The two battled back and forth the whole game.
“I just felt that … I have to work harder because I am undersized,” Dixon said. “I’m going to face a lot of bigger post players, so I just have to have a different mindset going in to it.”
Aside from preventing one loss from turning into the proverbial two-game skid, it seems the trip to the Bay did something else for the Bruins in Caldwell’s eyes. She has recently asked Dixon, Morris and Campbell to take on more ownership of the team.
The three are usually among the Bruins’ top scorers and serve as a strong veteran presence.
“It’s been their team all along, and we are going to go as they go. … So for them to take on that ownership, it only speaks volumes to the growth that we’ve had in just over a month,” Caldwell said, “There’s always room for us to grow and improve, and they did (on Saturday).”