When UCLA women’s basketball nearly threw the ball away for what was almost its fourth turnover in the first four minutes, Thea Lemberger couldn’t take it any more.
The junior guard furiously clapped her hands together, urging her team to pick up the intensity.
The Bruins looked as though they had sleepwalked into this top-25 showdown, quickly falling behind, 8-2, to Colorado.
UCLA did indeed turn it around, and in a big way, as it picked up its defensive intensity to pound No. 22 Colorado, 62-46.
The fuel behind the fire was Markel Walker.
A few plays after Lemberger’s pleas, following a Colorado defensive rebound, the senior forward stole the Buffaloes’ outlet pass underneath the Bruins’ own basket and finished with a wide-open layup.
On the ensuing inbound play, UCLA forced another turnover on their side of half court, and Walker wove through the defense on transition to swish a contested, 5-foot floater.
“We let those two, three plays really affect us for the rest of the game,” said Colorado coach Linda Lappe.
“You could see it in our players’ body language, in our demeanor. Everything changed at that point.”
The Bruins harassed the Buffaloes at every opportunity, contesting each shot and shutting down Colorado’s dribble-drive penetration.
Colorado Buffaloes were limited to 15 points in the first half of the game as senior forward Alyssia Brewer and the UCLA women’s basketball team upped its defense after an initial slow start on Saturday.[/caption]Colorado scored just 15 points in the first half as No. 18 UCLA (17-4, 8-2 Pac-12) tied its best defensive scoring effort of any half this season.
At one point, the Buffaloes (16-5, 5-5) had just one field goal in more than 12 minutes.
“It was a domino effect after the ASU game and our prior defensive games as well, and we brought that (Saturday),” said senior forward Alyssia Brewer of her team’s defensive performance.
Neither the success nor the double-digit lead stopped coach Cori Close from spending much of the second half in a puzzled stare, flailing her arms and shaking her head numerous times as she watched her team nearly fall apart.
The Bruins had a season-high 29 turnovers, most of which came in the second half.
“We can score a lot of points when we don’t throw the ball to the other team,” Close said.
“That’s really the reality of it, if you look at our shooting percentage, you look at how many weapons we have … that’s why it frustrates me so much when we’re not more careful with our possessions.”
While the team has been pressing offensive execution and decision-making, it didn’t show.
Long full-court passes, easily picked-off perimeter passes and traveling violations were rampant.
That the Bruins were able to win a game with this many turnovers was a testament to their strong defense, and to how far they still have to go with their offense.
“They go back and watch themselves on film, they evaluate … but it’s the response. That’s the next step in our development,” Close said.
“We’ve been willing to self-evaluate, we know the problem, we’re very coachable, now respond.”
UCLA took a step in the right direction on Sunday, defeating Utah (11-10, 2-8), 70-42, behind better ball movement and a relentless defense.