With just over a minute left in play, the University of North Carolina led UCLA’s women’s basketball team by eight – a seemingly insurmountable lead. But the Bruin faithful in Pauley Pavilion still got up on their feet to cheer on a possible comeback.
And who could blame them? The Bruins already overcame one 11-point deficit early in the second period, and even though they were down by eight, that difference had been 19 points just five minutes earlier.
Although UCLA tried to hold on, the final score read UCLA 68, UNC 78. The team may not have left Pauley with a win, but it left a strong impression on UNC coach Andrew Calder.
“They battled. They battled. Beat us on the boards, I’m not happy about that. But they fought all the way to the end and they should be proud of the effort they gave on the floor tonight,” Calder said.
The Bruins’ attempt at a comeback seemed to take a step back with 4:26 left on the game clock, when last season’s top scorer, sixth-year senior forward Atonye Nyingifa fouled out, but the Bruins found a way.
“Me fouling out two games in a row is not something I would hope or want for our team, it puts us in a bad situation,” Nyingifa said. “But I think my team handled it great … I’m glad to see them carry on and stay consistent and elevate the game even if I’m not in.”
And one of the players who stepped up during Nyingifa’s absence was senior guard Thea Lemberger. Lemberger played all 40 minutes in this game , but instead of succumbing to fatigue in the final minutes, she managed to flip the switch and score a bulk of the Bruins’ points.
“I just think she’s grown immensely. And I’m toughest on her and Atonye; they carry the biggest burden on the team, and I will continue to do so. Forty minutes, she better get used to it; it’s not changing. … She’s really played herself into being one of the top point guards in the west,” said UCLA coach Cori Close.
While the Bruins were impressed with their effort, the same could not be said about their shooting.
The Bruins (1-2) shot for 30.2 percent from the field, compared to the No. 12 Tar Heels’ (2-1) 38.3 percent. That difference in shooting efficiency is something that Close said factored into the outcome of the game.
“A lot of kids came in and just kept scratching and clawing and giving ourselves a chance. You know, we missed a fair amount of layups and free throws, and those are fixable things, and maybe the game’s a little bit different if we converted on those,” Close said.
In a season plagued by injuries, UCLA found some relief with the return of redshirt freshman guard Lauren Holiday. Holiday ended the day’s events with a double-double, in a return performance that Close described as both “relentless” and “courageous.”
However, depth still remains a problem when a lack of it can prevent a team from fielding a full team in practice. But Close said despite that adversity, it is only a matter of time before the team finds its feet and lives up to its potential.
“We’re going to be a really good basketball team. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, and we’ve had a lot of different lineups, we’ve had practices where we’ve only had four players, whatever else. So it’s really hard to get rhythm,” Close said. “But I’m telling you, if they continue to have fight and togetherness we will grow into a really, really good basketball team.”