They may have left with a few bumps and bruises, but the Bruins came out on top against the rival Trojans.
No. 9 UCLA women’s basketball (19-4, 10-2 Pac-12) defeated USC (15-8, 5-7) with a final score of 59-46 in a game dominated by the defenses. The Trojans, who had averaged almost 70 points per game heading into Friday night’s contest, were held to a season-low scoring total, thanks in large part to the Bruins’ aggressive defense.
The two rivals were going at it all night, with plenty of scrambles for loose balls, hard fouls and battles on the boards. Both redshirt junior forward Lajahna Drummer and USC’s forward Kristen Simon left temporarily with injuries, as there were several big collisions between the two teams.
The Bruins started the game hot, scoring 10 unanswered points. Coach Cori Close credits the Bruins’ home crowd of over 6,000 for the spark.
“I thought, when we hit some lulls, I really thought our crowd was a huge piece,” Close said. “Obviously, there’s lots to talk about for the game, but I’m really thankful for growing the game in Southern California, that was really fun.”
Senior guard Jordin Canada scored 16 points and dished out nine assists, continuing her season that has earned her a spot on the Wooden Award’s midseason watch list. She was strong from downtown, hitting all three of her 3-pointers in the second half, including a game-sealing jumper in the final minutes.
Fellow senior forward Monique Billings also notched a double-double, tallying 14 points and a team-leading 16 rebounds.
With a free throw late in the second quarter, Canada moved into third place on the Bruins’ all-time scoring list. However, she was focused on the importance of her team’s win rather than the accomplishment, also crediting the loud home crowd.
“The fans always give us energy, but I think we came out and we knew from the jump that we had to bring the intensity and the aggressiveness,” Canada said. “We knew it was a very emotional game for both teams, but the crowd definitely helped us with that.”
The Trojans played well enough defensively to hold the Bruins well below their 76-point-per-game average, but USC coach Mark Trakh still thinks his team struggled to stop the Bruins’ seniors.
“It’s hard to contain them athletically,” Trakh said. “It is very, very difficult game planning … we did as well as we could, but (Billings and Canada) are two of the best players in the country.”
Despite Trakh’s high praise for UCLA’s stars, Close made it clear that Canada and Billings weren’t the only contributors for the Bruins.
“(Canada) gets a lot of attention, and deservedly so, but anyone on our team will tell you that (senior guard) Kelli (Hayes) is our glue,” Close said. “Day in and day out, she makes everyone better. She gathers the team, she has their respect … without her, (Billings and Canada) don’t get to do what they do.”
Hayes scored 11 points, her highest mark since Jan. 14 in the game against Colorado. She nailed a 3-pointer on the Bruins’ first possession of the game, sparking a 10-0 UCLA run, and would go on to hit two more triples.
“The past four years I’ve been here, I just know that I have to put in the work; no one’s going to put it in for me,” Hayes said. “So I just want to have my teammates’ backs. If I’m working hard, my teammates are going to want to come to me late in the game.”
The senior may not be enjoying a prolific season shooting the ball, with an average of 6.4 points per contest, but her coach and teammates continue to emphasize her importance to the team’s rotation.
After such a physical game, the Bruins will need to get healthy for a rematch against USC, but Close was adamant in saying that it will be a whole new game.
“We should be very grateful to be a part of one of the greatest rivalries in college sports,” Close said. “But we have to focus on us … it’s going to be about hunger: Who wants it more?”
The Bruins and Trojans meet again Monday night on USC’s home turf, as UCLA has a chance to complete the season sweep of USC for a second straight season.