Coach Cori Close had two words for her team prior to the game – focus and freedom.
After falling behind 7-0 to open up the game, UCLA kept its poise and remained aggressive, eventually taking the lead later in the quarter.
“We were getting wide open shots, but we just weren’t hitting them,” Close said. “So we said, ‘Hey, get a second shot opportunity … rely on our defense, get stops, and then we’ll get into a rhythm.’ That’s exactly what happened.”
Coming off an upset to unranked Stanford, No. 11 UCLA women’s basketball (10-3, 1-1 Pac-12) bounced back with a 82-46 road win against No. 20 California (10-3, 1-1), snapping their seven-game win streak. The Bears have not beaten a ranked team yet this season.
Once the Bruins took the lead in the first, they never looked back.
Senior Monique Billings led all scorers, tallying her seventh double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-11 from the field. The forward leaped for an offensive rebound mid-fourth quarter, converting off of a missed jumper to give UCLA a 37-point lead, its largest of the game.
“I can speak for (senior guard Jordin Canada) and I, this is our last go around,” Billings said. “So as seniors, you have to take one game at a time, there’s going to be ups and downs in the Pac-12 but (we just have to) stick to our identity and trust the process.”
The win was the senior duo’s first victory at Haas Pavilion, losing the road game in their past three seasons.
While Cal averages about 16 turnovers a game, UCLA had already forced 15 turnovers by halftime and held a 34-19 lead. The Bruins’ defense also limited the Bears to just 28.6 percent from the floor.
“We started getting stop after stop, and that kind of fueled us to play more defense,” Canada said, who was one assist shy of a double-double with 16 points and nine assists. “It shows. … when they keep turning over the ball, it gets us hyped to play even better defense.”
UCLA allowed just four points in the second quarter, and at one point held Cal scoreless on 12 straight possessions.
Defense has been the Bruins’ identity going into conference play, Billings calling it the “backbone” of the team. Cal wilted under UCLA’s pressure and struggled to dig themselves out of the point deficit.
“I think (Canada) is different than the average guard,” said California coach Lindsey Gottlieb. “She can really pressure the ball and be disruptive. And then because they have athletes on the back side of it, you think you get an easy look but a (6-foot-2) wing might be blocking your shot.”
Part of UCLA’s game plan was a focus to limit guard Kianna Smith, who averaged 10 points per game during the Bears’ win streak. The freshman was held scoreless in the game.
“She’s a really good player (and) has a great feel for the game,” Close said. “We wanted to put her in sped up decision making situations.”
Another key to the victory was UCLA’s depth. Close shuffled up the lineup with junior transfer guard Japreece Dean starting in place of junior guard Kennedy Burke.
“That’s really the theme of this team,” Close said. “I knew there was going to be different nights for different people, so we made some decisions to mix up the lineup.”
Despite coming off the bench for the first time this season, Burke had eight of her 10 points in the first quarter.
UCLA had eight players with at least five points, and all 10 players who played scored. The Bruins’ bench outscored the Bears’ bench 30-5.
“It’s so much fun to watch my teammates just play freely,” Canada said. “It’s so much fun watching from the bench seeing their faces smile after they hit a basket or make a hustle play.”
The Bruins shared the ball, dishing out 11 assists on 14 made shots by halftime. They ended the game with 26 dimes, after finishing with just 11 in their loss to Stanford. The Bruins also made all nine free throws they attempted, their second game this season shooting 100 percent from the charity stripe. The team’s average sits at 72.6 percent.
UCLA finished off its five-game road trip 3-2, and will host No. 16 Oregon State (11-2, 2-0) back in Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 5.