The only sounds audible in Pauley Pavilion were the Bruin player’s
footsteps as she stepped up to the line.
The ball missed the mark, and the silence was cut by a collective groan coming out of the stands.
It happened 14 times in total on Friday. For every time the UCLA women’s basketball team failed to convert from the line, the Washington Huskies responded with swift guard play, getting penetration in the paint or managing to find an open shooter. Finally, the Bruins fell 58–70 to the visiting Huskies (11-9, 4-5 Pac-12).
“From the missed layups to Washington pressing us on transition and getting easy layups, I think our lack of focus just didn’t allow us to focus on the line and those are easy buckets that could’ve easily contributed to the turn of the game.” said sixth-year senior forward Atonye Nyingifa.
Two days later, the Bruins stepped into Pauley Pavilion once again seeking redemption.
After two back-to-back layups to start the game courtesy of Nyingifa, the Bruins looked poised to pull off a win against the Washington State Cougars, but as their past three consecutive losses have reminded them, a college basketball game is 40 minutes long.
And for the first time, the Bruins (11-12, 5-6) brought the sustained energy they needed to send the Cougars (12-10, 6-4) home disappointed with a 79-72 loss.
“We had 51 passion plays, and for us we never lost a game all year when we had 50 passion plays,” coach Cori Close said.
Nyingifa found atonement for her six-for-19 shooting Friday night with a 30-point performance on Sunday. She gave the crowd another reason to gasp that night. But instead of showing the crowd’s disappointment at a missed free throw, this gasp reflected the crowd’s amazement at what it had just seen.
With the shot clock winding down, redshirt junior forward Corinne Costa fired a mid-range jumper for an air ball. The stray ball found its way to Nyingifa’s hands and with one second left before a potential shot clock violation, Nyingifa scored on a seemingly impossible no-look reverse, drawing a reaction from the crowd.
It was this never-give-up attitude that helped the Bruins carve out their first win in three games.
Another player who displayed the same fight and drive was senior guard Thea Lemberger.
Foul after foul from the Cougars sent Lemberger to the floor, but after each time she forced herself up with a grimace on her face and called in her teammates for a huddle.
After the game, the team’s leader flashed a smile when asked about taking all the harsh hits she from the Cougars.
“I enjoy the contact of the sport, so it was fun always getting a little hit,” Lemberger said. “I’m not afraid of some contact.”
The high number of fouls directed Lemberger’s way meant that the game went down to her hands, literally. Lemberger was called to the line 12 times in the game, and she responded by converting 11 points from those attempts.
Free throws had been the team’s Achilles heel on Friday, but they became the reason the Bruins won Sunday. But hidden behind the ability to make free throws at the end of the game when they counted most was the energy the team brought.
Whether the players had to dive for a loose ball or pick themselves up from the floor after getting knocked down, they made sure what they got from the effort would count.