As far as one-two punches go, Darxia Morris brought the lightning, and Jasmine Dixon packed the thunder.
In the last regular-season meeting between the two teams, the UCLA women’s basketball team rained on the parade of Troy, edging past USC 74-67 Sunday at the Galen Center to sweep the series.
Unlike their last victory against their local nemesis ““ a lopsided 61-42 affair ““ the No. 10 Bruins (19-2, 9-1 Pac-10) found themselves well contested by the Women of Troy (13-8, 5-5) throughout the game. But they would ultimately persevere behind the sweet stroke of Morris, who scored a career-high 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and the pure grit of Dixon, who registered a double-double with 23 points and 14 rebounds.
“Those two did a really great job of knocking down shots when we needed them,” coach Nikki Caldwell said of Morris, a senior guard, and Dixon, a junior forward. “Darxia playing off the dribble … that was key for us when (USC) went to their zone.
“And Dixon is basically being the player we knew she was going to be. She’s coming into her own, and she’s able to play away from the basket and does a great job of getting on the boards for us.”
Dixon got to work early, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the first half alone.
Despite her promising start, she gave her team a fleeting scare with 2:51 left in the first period when she strained her right shoulder during a tug-of-war for the ball with an opposing player.
Still, Dixon returned from the locker room less than two minutes later, showing no signs of faze.
“I expect the bumps and bruises,” she said. “I’m undersized (in the post), so everyone thinks they can just push me around. I’m going to fight back and do what I have to do to get position.”
But if UCLA’s first-half performance entailed an aura of energy ““ catalyzed perhaps by a large showing of UCLA students on a football-festive Sunday afternoon ““ the Bruins looked rather lethargic in the opening frame of the second period, turning the ball over five times within the first five minutes and allowing the Women of Troy to go on a mini 7-2 run.
“We talk about the game being played in runs, and we really broke down defensively in some areas,” Caldwell said. “So we came back and said that we need to make sure our defense takes the shape of (USC’s) offense.”
A made 3-pointer from USC’s redshirt senior guard Jacki Gemelos at the 14:36 mark brought the Women of Troy to within one, but that was as close as it got in the second half.
The Bruins held their opponents at bay for the duration of the game, with Morris and Dixon making the go-to plays down the stretch. In fact, Morris herself crashed the boards, pulling down six rebounds of her own for the game.
In the end, one particular play indicative of the Morris-Dixon dynamic essentially iced the Bruins’ 19th win of the season and fourth in a row.
With 38 seconds remaining in the game, Dixon stole the ball on USC’s attempted post-entry pass and heaved it overhead to Morris, who ran down the court and scored on a breakaway layup to put UCLA up 71-62.
That both players had 20-point performances may have simply been a coincidence. But with just eight games left in the regular season, it spoke volumes of their roles.
“We know we have big responsibilities to this team,” Morris said. “The team was listening to us, so as leaders we had to motivate them and tell them to stick together.”