With under a minute remaining in Sunday’s matchup, Jordin Canada was thrown to the ground by South Carolina guard Khadijah Sessions. The UCLA sophomore guard did not seem to care. She got up and slapped hands with Sessions.
The referees looked at the replay monitor for a while before officially confirming the flagrant foul. The Bruins were given two free throws and the ball back. Canada hit both shots and then UCLA was down by four.
Though the Gamecocks would hold the lead for the rest of the game, it was easy to see why they were frustrated. South Carolina, the No. 2 team in the country, had to battle Canada and outranked UCLA for 40 minutes, barely pulling off the 68-65 win.
The Bruins themselves were not satisfied with the loss. It was not enough just to go toe-to-toe with the Gamecocks, they wanted to finish the deal.
“What got exposed was the very, very small differences between good and great,” said coach Cori Close.
The team lived up to its reputation of high pressure defense. UCLA hounded South Carolina the entire game, forcing 21 turnovers, compared to the nine UCLA gave up . Canada and senior guard Nirra Fields pestered the South Carolina backcourt throughout the afternoon, tallying a combined nine steals and keeping the score close throughout. The game was tied 14 times and had 14 lead changes.
“Nirra was doing a really good job on (South Carolina guard) Tiffany Mitchell and allowed Jordin to get her hand on deflections and a couple loose balls and allowed us to get some easy buckets in transition,” Close said.
However, at the end, the Bruins still fell short.
“There were some minutes that (South Carolina) played to who they are, and we lost that, just for a second,” Close said.
South Carolina showed why they are a top-ranked team. The Gamecocks out-rebounded the Bruins 45 to 31 and showed composure down the stretch to seal the win. All-American Mitchell and guard Tina Roy both finished with 17 points and were able to get the post players good looks when they needed it.
The Bruins still expected to put up a fight. Two days before, they pummeled James Madison by 29 points, giving them confidence heading into Sunday. Both contests bode well for a team that is looking to improve from its 13-18 regular season record in the 2014-2015 season.
“We still have a long way to go,” Canada said, “but I think we’re a way better team than we were last year.”
With Pac-12 play beginning in December, the game helps solidify the team as a contender who could pose a threat to other highly ranked teams.
“I think a lot of it is like quick fixes like just making shots at the free throw line, little things like that,” Fields said, “If we put those together we can be a dominant team.”