After a week of rest and practice, the UCLA women’s basketball team expected to start Sunday’s game against USC energized and motivated.
Instead the Bruins got off to a sluggish start against the Women of Troy. The team fell behind early and was never able to muster the energy to fight their way back, eventually losing to USC 66-54.
“If you want to put that UCLA uniform on, you’d better come with more urgency and fight, right from the tip,” said coach Cori Close, who was openly disappointed with the way the Bruins played.
“It’s not about who won and lost, I couldn’t care less about the final score. But I care a whole lot about the process and how we come and fight in Bruin uniforms, and we did not do that” Close said.
The Bruins (12-13, 7-7 Pac-12) struggled offensively from the beginning, scoring only five points in the first five minutes of the game.
But it was poor defensive execution rather than a lack of buckets that broke the game open midway through the first half as USC (14-11, 8-6) went on an 18-9 run.
“We just did not play 40 minutes of complete defense,” junior guard/forward Markel Walker said.
“We came out in the second half and tried to get ourselves back in the game but we had dug ourselves into a hole. We just didn’t play hard enough. We let a lot of distractions get in the way of us performing well. And we just lost.”
Walker led the team with 13 rebounds, more than double the amount of any other Bruin.
Although she had an effective night on the boards, Walker knows that rebounding is a team effort and on Sunday, the Bruins were not getting it done. UCLA was outrebounded 48-37 and gave up 15 offensive rebounds to USC.
“Everybody from the point guards to the shooting guards to the post players should be looking to get boards or at least get their hands on it to help us out,” Walker said.
For Close, UCLA’s inability to grab rebounds was a reflection of the team’s lack of effort on Sunday.
“I thought (USC) came out with focus and energy,” Close said. “Their hustle for loose balls and rebounds gave them second and third opportunities, especially in the first half. They treated this rivalry with the respect it deserves.”
With the loss, UCLA falls into sixth place in the Pac-12, a full game behind fourth place USC. The top four teams in the conference get top seeds for the Pac-12 tournament, and a win against the Women of Troy would have boosted the Bruins into the coveted top four.
It was more than just UCLA’s conference tournament hopes that suffered a blow in Sunday’s loss. What really disappointed Close was the team’s lack of motivation to deliver a win for senior guard Rebekah Gardner in what could potentially be her last rivalry game.
“If you care about everything that she’s brought to this program, you show up with a sense of urgency and a fight that is unmistakable in honoring what she’s given to this program,” she said.
“I was very disappointed in what we brought in that first half. I thought it was disrespectful to the rivalry, and I thought it was disrespectful to Rebekah Gardner. We need to take responsibility for that, and we need to change it.”
Gardner put together an impressive performance against USC on Sunday. The team’s leading scorer had 18 points despite leaving the game in the second half after being elbowed in the lip. She returned after getting four stitches.
But any individual highlights were hidden among the Bruins’ overall struggles on Sunday. For Gardner, it was UCLA’s lack of execution rather than USC’s aggressive play that was ultimately the difference in the game.
“I don’t think it’s what they do so much as it is what we didn’t do,” Gardner said. “We have to be composed when there’s pressure and take care of the ball. It’s just that we have to be composed and not let them speed us up. They’re a good defensive team, but it was on us to play better out there.”