Trailing against Oregon State on Sunday, UCLA looked like it was heading for a letdown against a mediocre team on the road.
But then, the Bruins flipped the switch.
They sunk their teeth in on defense and surged on a 14-0 run late in the second half to steal the game, 68-64.
“At halftime, coach talked about hustling for loose balls and rebounds. And I think we just came together as a team and said, ‘We are not going to lose this game,’” said redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa.
“And we just started making more hustle plays and building our energy to give us momentum.”
During that decisive second-half run, No. 16 UCLA (11-2, 2-0 Pac-12) held Oregon State (6-8, 0-2) scoreless for almost seven minutes. The Bruins also forced seven turnovers during that time.
“We started pressuring them full court … switching everything and putting mass pressure on the ball. They did a great job of breaking us off the dribble for a long time, but we were able to keep our chest in front, force harder shots and it paid off for us in the end,” said coach Cori Close.
Meanwhile, UCLA’s offense also found its rhythm.
The Bruins hit easy layups off backdoor cuts and open jumpers with effective off-the-ball screens. Mixed in with senior forward Alyssia Brewer’s superb post play, UCLA began to roll.
The strong second half was a far cry from the Bruins’ lackluster first one, though.
“Quite frankly, we weren’t playing hard enough. That’s the reality of the situation,” Close said.
“I never expect our teams to play mistake-free. I never expect our teams to shoot the ball perfectly. But I do expect our team to play with the kind of hustle and tempo that reflects the commitment to playing our best night in and night out.”
The team’s comeback victory came on the heels of another conference road win against Oregon (2-12, 0-2), 89-80, on Friday.
Despite the rollercoaster ride, UCLA ended the weekend right where it wanted: two wins to start Pac-12 play, leaving the Bruins tied atop the conference standings.
“(Winning the conference) is one of our highest priorities. We set that goal at the beginning of the year and we continue to remind ourselves every game that that’s what we want to do,” Brewer said.