NOTRE DAME 76
During a fast break in Friday’s game, Notre Dame freshman guard Jewell Loyd weaved in and out of UCLA’s defense until the only obstacle between her and the basket was UCLA’s 5-foot-4-inch senior guard Mariah Williams.
After backpedaling much of the way, Williams finally took a defensive stance and held her ground.
Unable to avoid her, Loyd barreled over Williams for the charging foul. Williams then sat up, clenched both fists and yelled “Let’s go!”
But No. 19 UCLA (3-1), couldn’t withstand Notre Dame’s charge in a 76-64 loss on Friday.
After capturing a 17-16 lead midway through the first half behind easy transition baskets and smooth shooting, UCLA’s offense sputtered, which allowed No. 5 Notre Dame (4-0) to go on a game-changing 9-0 run.
“All of a sudden, they started scoring and therefore we weren’t able to run and we got stagnant on offense. We settled in that 9-0 run to make it an individual game, and I think that really created a momentum shift that we had a hard time recovering from,” said coach Cori Close.
The Fighting Irish dictated the tempo from there.
It was then that the Bruins missed junior guard Thea Lemberger the most.
Lemberger, a starter and the team’s third-leading scorer, sat out both games this weekend with a sprained left knee.
“She brought a certain comfortableness to our team. … So I feel like we lost that in her not being on the court. And we didn’t have a person to really step up to help us calm down and regather ourselves,” said senior forward/guard Markel Walker.
But UCLA had its opportunities. Aside from taking an early lead, the Bruins held Notre Dame’s All-American senior guard, Skylar Diggins, to 12 points on 5-17 shooting.
Williams’ tough defense, which left Diggins visibly upset throughout the game, was at the forefront of the terrific effort.
“They have a lot of respect for (Diggins) but there’s no fear. They want to get right up in her and force her to play a way she doesn’t want to play,” Close said.
But the Bruins had trouble stringing together a complete defensive effort, and it cost them the game.
“Coach did mention after the game that it’s going to take a collective focus and energy and effort from us to win big games like this. (And) that really rang with me,” Williams said.
Despite suffering its first loss of the season, UCLA didn’t walk away empty-handed.
“We’re going to learn from this and it’s a great measuring stick for us. We play teams like Notre Dame because that’s what we’re building to become,” Close said.
On Sunday, the Bruins rebounded with 65-52 win over Princeton (3-2).
After a slow, gritty first half, UCLA pulled away in the second half behind its stellar defense.
“Our defense picked up. And to hold them to 20 points in the second half is really huge for us. (Defense) has to be what we take the most pride in,” Close said.
Freshman guard Nirra Fields had a career- and game-high 26 points. She finished aggressive drives, nailed mid-range jumpers and drained two 3-point shots to lead the Bruins.
“Yeah, she had a bust-out game, but that happened when she busted out and did the extra stuff. Not game time. That’s a fruition of her hard work,” Close said.
Email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.