Down 63-56 with 49 seconds on the clock and Washington making everything, Thursday night’s game was all but over for the UCLA women’s basketball team (11-10, 6-4 Pac-12).
Rebekah Gardner made a layup, bringing it to 63-58. Redshirt senior Regina Rogers, rock solid all night for the Washington Huskies, missed the front end of a one-and-one, and UCLA’s sophomore guard Thea Lemberger made both of hers on the other end. Suddenly, the margin was down to three.
And then Gardner took over. After UCLA’s press forced a turnover, she made an easy layup to bring the Bruins within one. Washington missed the second of two free throws, and Gardner ended up with the ball in her hand, down two.
As has been the case all season, when the team needed her, Gardner delivered. Her drive and layup tied the game at 66 and turned what would have been a demoralizing loss into an overtime thriller.
“We just grinded it out, played great defense at the end, had our full court pressure on,” Gardner said. “Thankfully we were able to get steals, make free throws and turn them over.”
In the five-minute overtime, junior guard Mariah Williams delivered the dagger with a runner in the lane and a bank-shot three pointer with the shot clock expiring. Williams is not known for her shooting prowess; tonight, she was a sniper.
“She’s proving me wrong,” coach Cori Close said. “I yelled at her about shot selection yesterday, and she’s like “˜I’ll show you shot selection, I’ll go four for four.’”
Five UCLA players finished with double digits in points, led by 17 from Gardner and 16 from junior guard Markel Walker, who also had 14 rebounds.
Washington (11-9, 3-7) was a polar opposite, relying on two players for most of their scoring: Rogers (a former UCLA player) and freshman guard Jazmine Davis. The two girls were nearly enough to beat the Bruins on Thursday, as UCLA lost focus in the second half.
Close certainly wasn’t pleased with the second-half effort. The final minutes of the game, however, were an image of the grit and toughness this team is starting to develop, and will certainly be a teaching moment.
“I think it’s kind of comical, because you think you’re tired, but as a team, once you turn it on, energy just builds from the defense,” Williams said.
That’s the message Close has been preaching to a depleted roster, and it seems to finally be sticking. “With the amount of minutes we’re playing, that’s all heart and mind,” Close said after the game.
The danger with emotional wins like this is that the subsequent game could be marked by a lack of effort and concentration. Pulling one out like this, though, one game after an overtime win at Colorado, undermines the thinking that UCLA might suffer a letdown against Washington State on Saturday. And Gardner thinks it’s bosh.
“A letdown? No, not at all. From the past three games, we’ve learned that we need to be consistent and play hard throughout the whole game. So on Saturday, that’s going to be a focus,” Gardner said. “If anything, you’ll see us play harder than we’ve been playing.”