UCLA’s Nicole Kornet walked back down the court after committing her fourth personal foul.
Instead of looking nervous about being just one foul from disqualification, she had a soft smile on her face – her team was up double-digits late in the fourth quarter.
Sunday afternoon’s contest between the then-No. 18 UCLA Bruins (20-7, 11-5 Pac-12) and the Washington State Cougars (10-17, 5-11) was not only the Bruins’ last home game of the regular season, but also senior day for Kornet and fellow guards Kari Korver and Dominique Williams – and they were set on playing their last match in Pauley with smiles.
Four Bruins, including Kornet and Korver, finished with double-digit point totals in UCLA’s 67-48 win.
Meanwhile, UCLA junior forward Monique Billings had a career night on the boards, notching all sorts of records and falling just one rebound shy of setting a new single-game school record with her 25 total rebounds.
Billings’ 25 rebounds not only is the second highest single-game total in the Pac-12 this season, but also ties the previous program records held by Denise Curry and Natalie Williams.
“(Billings) actually called Denise Curry up her freshman year and said, ‘I want to learn from you.’” coach Cori Close said. “(Billings) sought that out. And I just thought that shows tremendous humility and maturity. (Curry’s) number is in the rafters and today (Billings) tied her record. And so I just thought that’s a really cool thing to be associated with.”
UCLA’s compacted 2-3 zone forced Washington State into unsuccessful long-range attempts, allowing the home team to jump out to a 20-6 lead.
The Cougars tried to restore some balance to the game by employing a double-team along the baseline against the Bruins who, in turn, were able to exploit the double-team effort with rim-cuts and shooters on the perimeter.
Later in the second quarter, Washington State was able to come as close as 21-15, finding some success when UCLA switched over to man-to-man coverage. But soon after switching back to their zone defense, the Bruins were able to regather their footing and take a 38-25 lead into halftime.
The second half was led predominantly by the seniors, who combined for 12 points of their total 22 points.
Meanwhile, all but one of the Washington State team was held to single-digit scoring with junior guard Caila Hailey netting her 10th point with only 1:13 remaining in the game.
The Cougars shot just 29.9 percent, putting up only seven and nine points in the first and third quarters respectively. Conversely, the Bruins shot at a 38.8 percent shooting clip.
UCLA sophomore guard Kennedy Burke was the first player to reach double figures in scoring midway through the second quarter. Burke finished with a game-high 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
In addition to her performance on the glass, Billings recorded 12 points, going 5-of-13 from the field, for her 15th double-double on the season.
“Our hard work really started with Monique Billings,” Close said. “Not just her rebounds, but her hustle. And those were not ‘in-her-area’ rebounds. Those were like ‘fly-across-30-feet’ rebounds. And that just really set the tone of the game.”
The Bruins finished with a 56-44 edge in rebounding, to which Close attributes a large part of her team’s success.
“We had been outrebounded for four straight games. I think our team had a lot of pride this weekend. We weren’t just going to settle for a win. We wanted to get better,” Close said.
UCLA junior guard Jordin Canada came off the bench in facilitator mode, easing her way back into her regular minutes after injuries and illness the last few games and dishing out as seven assists to match her seven points in her 26 minutes.
“Obviously she’s not one-hundred percent and so even people off-the-bench had to step up. We had to all do our roles,” Burke said.
The win extends UCLA’s home win streak to 27, a record dating back to last season and good for the second longest active streak in the nation behind UConn.
UCLA now sits just three games behind Oregon State and Stanford for the top spot in the conference. The Bruins will have a chance to dethrone their conference rivals on the road next week against the Arizona schools before heading into the Pac-12 tournament.
“You just got to have a warrior mentality this time of year,” Close said. “We haven’t played as well on the road consistently as wanted to this year. And so it’s another opportunity to have that sort of edge going into Arizona. We want to keep the momentum going into postseason play.”