UCLA women’s basketball bounced back with two victories after going down to the nation’s top team, but the Bruins still have some polishing up to do before they begin conference play.
After last Tuesday’s loss to No. 1 Connecticut, coach Cori Close said that her team’s weaknesses were all things that could be changed if worked on in practices.
“I think I saw some of (the weaknesses improve,) … but I think we have a long ways to go,” Close said. “I thought it was a B-minus weekend for us, but I think our ability to talk on defense was the biggest improvement.”
No. 5 UCLA (5-1) defeated Kansas State (5-1) 64-55 and Creighton (3-3) 72-63 in Las Vegas during Thanksgiving weekend.
Despite the defensive energy, the Bruins’ shooting slump from the loss against Connecticut carried over into its first tournament game in the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout. UCLA shot 37.5 percent from the field, which was only 3 percent better than the loss.
In the second game, however, UCLA was able to get back into a more efficient offensive groove.
“They’re both NCAA tournament teams,” said senior guard Kelli Hayes, who had 12 points and three assists in the game against Kansas State “Even though they may not be ranked No. 1, they’re still top teams in the nation and we have to treat every game as if it’s the No. 1 game that day.”
The Bruins jumped out to an 8-0 lead to start the game and held the Wildcats to just four made field goals in the first quarter. But the Wildcats responded with a 14-3 run to end the half as Kansas State guard Kayla Goth went 5-for-5 with 10 points during that span and would finish the day leading all scorers with a season high of 19 points
Senior forward Monique Billings, who put up her second double-double of the season, led the Bruins with 17 points and 12 rebounds against Wildcats.
Although UCLA walked away with the win, sloppy play turned into a season high of 23 turnovers. But Close mentioned that the team’s rebounding kept them in the game.
“Our ability to rebound and get second shot opportunities, I think, was the biggest thing – our ability to offensive rebound,” Close said.
UCLA also had six players with at least three fouls, including its season-leading scorer senior guard Jordin Canada, who was caught in early foul trouble, finishing with just six points, six assists and five rebounds. But the Bruins continued to play through whistles and adjust accordingly.
“I think it was more the adjustments the players were willing to make,” Close said.
Although Kansas State had its opportunities to make runs, UCLA was fortunate that the Wildcats struggled to convert on transition layups and free throws, shooting just 11-for-21 from the line. Despite their mistakes, however, the Bruins outrebounded the Wildcats 48-31 and never trailed during the game.
Against Creighton, the Bruins fell into a 26-17 deficit early in the second quarter, but rallied back before the half. Then a hook shot from junior guard Kennedy Burke to take a 40-39 lead began a momentum shift early in the third. Shots began to fall for UCLA, which ignited a 23-6 run in the third continuing into the fourth quarter.
“I thought we moved the ball well and kept our pressure up, especially in that third quarter,” redshirt junior forward Lajahna Drummer said. She had 10 points and three rebounds.
The Bluejays handed the Bruins a wake-up call in the first half, trailing only by one at halftime. Creighton was able to get to the free throw line, making all 10 attempts.
But UCLA drained shots down the stretch to finished the game shooting above 45 percent from the field, after plummeting below 40 percent for two straight games. They were also able to limit turnovers to just eight.
Close praised the players on their individual efforts this weekend, but emphasized that there is a lot of room for improvement as a team.
“I really liked the efforts I saw from Drummer and (freshman forward) Michaela Onyenwere,” Close said. “I saw individual improvement, but we have incredible chemistry off the court, but we really need to work on our chemistry on the court.”