With several key team members sitting on the bench as injured spectators rather than players for Saturday’s game against the Trojans, the Bruins knew they had a challenge in front of them.
UCLA and USC battled it out in a crosstown rivalry match, with the Trojans being ranked second in the Pac-12 prior to the game and the Bruins ranked sixth.
USC emerged triumphant with a 47-43 win at UCLA.
The game was evenly played throughout, with neither team ever grabbing hold of a significant lead. The Bruins were behind by three with just 30 seconds to go but failed to come out on top, missing shots and giving up multiple fouls in the game’s key moments.
“That’s on me. The goal was to get a quick two and then foul because they hadn’t been making their foul shots at that point,” coach Cori Close said.
“Finding a 3-point shot wouldn’t have been to our favor at that point.”
USC coach Michael Cooper said his team paid particular attention in preparation for UCLA’s sophomore guard Thea Lamberger and senior guard Rebekah Gardner. They managed to do what they wanted against Lamberger, he said, but Gardner finished with a 20-point performance.
“Coach Wooden spoke about competitive greatness. It’s giving your best when the best is needed, and if you look back at our most high-pressure games, what has Rebekah Gardner done? Given her best when her best is needed,” Close said.
UCLA has been repeatedly plagued with injuries this season, most recently when freshman guard Moriah Faulk went down against Arizona. They had to make do with a seven-player rotation, which gave way to a different lineup than they’re used to.
The Bruins started out slow but caught up within a few minutes. Close attributed that to defensive adjustments made in their unusual lineup.
Close stressed the need for team solidarity, and her players agreed.
“We have to find consistent unity. We’re a good team so the biggest thing to take is being consistent together every game,” junior guard Mariah Williams said.
USC’s defense forced bad first shots, as did UCLA’s, but the difference between them was offensive rebounds. The Trojans consistently managed to get multiple shots off a single possession, whereas the Bruins were one and done more often than not.
For much of the second half, the scoreboard laid dormant, with neither team seizing the opportunity to pull ahead.
“If they’re not scoring, I don’t have a problem with that. We just had to get on the offensive rebounds. Everybody’s going to miss shots, it’s just about putbacks,” Gardner said.
Close was not as concerned with the win or loss but was overall more disappointed that the Trojans out-played the Bruins in several areas of the game.
“Let this one hurt a bit ““ I don’t care if we would have won, but to get out-rebounded and out-hustled is on your chest,” Close said. “It would hurt less if we had won, but I would make it hurt. To not have unity and be out-hustled is more important than the final score.”