Junior guard Jordin Canada says coach Cori Close constantly tells her players to breathe.
During the UCLA women’s basketball team’s first game of the weekend, the No. 13 Bruins (17-4, 8-2 Pac-12) watched what had been an 18-point lead against the No. 16 Arizona State Sun Devils (14-7, 5-5) dwindle to six with just over three minutes to go.
At that moment, Canada did what she had been doing all game: She took a deep breath, and she responded.
Canada scored the team’s last nine points of the game as UCLA held off Arizona State 69-60 to record its 24th straight win at home.
“It was just about slowing down and making sure we’re breathing and making sure we’re playing as one,” Canada said after the game to Pac-12 Networks analyst Ros Gold-Onwude. “We needed to slow down. I think we were rushing a lot of shots and we were turning over the ball a little bit and we weren’t playing great enough defense.”
Though the Bruins led by double digits throughout most of the game, Canada was constantly making plays whenever the Sun Devils began to make a run. She hit a 3-pointer as time expired at the end of the first quarter and a layup at the buzzer to end the half.
“Arizona State is a great team and we knew they were going to punch back,” Canada said. “It was just about staying aggressive and fighting.”
Canada finished the game with 26 points and six assists on 8-of-13 shooting while making 9-of-10 free throws. Junior forward Monique Billings also contributed with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The second game of the weekend was not quite as dramatic. UCLA led Arizona (11-10, 2-8) for the majority of the game and finished with a 69-49 win. Canada had nine assists and six steals as redshirt senior guard Kari Korver added a career-high 24 points.
“Jordin’s been teasing me for a while (saying), ‘You’re going to hit six 3s,’ and tonight I finally did,” Korver said. “I’m happy to give my team what I can.”
The Bruins have won their last six games, five of which have been at home. It was a change in trajectory for the Bruins, who lost back-to-back games to the Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars on their last road trip. Despite its winning streak, those two losses still have UCLA at fourth place in the conference.
Before this weekend, Close insisted the players have improved since that trip, but also weren’t themselves in Washington.
“We’re getting better on the defensive end (since Washington), but we also played at home,” Close said Wednesday. “My whole focus for the month of January is to really improve our toughness, so when we go out on the road for four out of five weekends February and March, that we are a team that is tougher, grittier, more focused and more confident.”
After that weekend in Washington, the Bruins looked to be in a bit of trouble. Then they took a breath, and they responded.