With less than 10 seconds left in the first half, USC’s Ariya Crook raced up the court, weaving between UCLA defenders to try to beat the clock. Then, she ran into a wall. Crook crashed into senior guard/forward Markel Walker and lost the ball, sending USC into halftime in a daze, trailing UCLA by 15.
After a close start to the game, where UCLA led by just one after 7 minutes, USC hit another wall, as UCLA pulled away to earn a 68-54 win on the road over its rival.
“Its not just a W, it’s a W in history. People are going to remember this event for years to come and they’re going to tally how many wins UCLA has against USC, so this win will go down in history,” said redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa.
The No. 17 Bruins (20-6, 11-4 Pac-12) started the game shooting just 4-14, but eventually shrugged off their struggles and put together a 10-0 run to break the game open.
“We weren’t in rhythm. We weren’t in sync. I just think we picked it up as time passed,” Nyingifa said.
The slow start was soon forgotten as UCLA caught fire and scored at will.
“I thought we got some turnovers and some long rebounds out of our zone defense and then we were able to get out … and run. But I think more than anything it’s just shots went in,” said coach Cori Close.
Coming out of halftime, USC (8-18, 5-10) looked ready to spark a comeback, scoring a quick basket then immediately tipping a UCLA pass out of bounds. But junior guard Thea Lemberger quickly put an end to that.
She drained a three from the top of the arc, then another 45 seconds later, squashing any hope of a USC surge and pushing UCLA’s lead to 19.
“I was really focused on what the defense was doing. They left me open and I was fortunate to knock them down,” Lemberger said.
The Bruins continued their dominance throughout the second half, and the win marked a bounce-back performance after a disappointing weekend.
“We had two tough losses against Stanford and Cal and we made a lot of mental errors, and I think this game showed we kind of bounced back and corrected them and played really hard,” Nyingifa said.
The Bruins, playing their third game in five days, were fatigued but did not let their tiredness show.
“We just decided we had to win with our minds and our hearts. Our bodies were tired, but so were SC’s, so we really focused on how are we preparing mentally and how are we preparing emotionally and I think our team got themselves ready to play,” said Close.
“I told the team, ‘You can never tire of doing right,’ and we just got to not tire of being hungry to get better every possession so I was proud of their choice in that.”
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