The Bruins’ composure down the stretch helped them secure a season sweep over the Trojans.
While UCLA led for the entire game, its largest lead of 14 in the third quarter dwindled to just one midway through the fourth. But the No. 8 Bruins (19-4, 10-2 Pac-12) held on to defeat USC (15-8, 5-7) for their eighth straight victory.
As the game escalated in both point margin and emotion, fouls were being assessed possession after possession, resulting in words exchanged between the teams. After drawing a fifth and final foul on Kristen Simon, senior forward Monique Billings waved to the USC forward, receiving the first technical foul of her career.
“This rivalry just makes me think about legacy – all the players that have come before me at UCLA and USC, but I’m just trying to represent UCLA and trying to play hard for the city,” Billings said. “It’s like who runs LA, and I think UCLA women’s basketball did this season.”
The Bruins remained poised and regrouped to score on eight of their next nine possessions, while holding the Trojans to just one field goal in their final seven possessions to end the final frame.
“I told the team in the last media timeout that this might be the lesson we need,” said coach Cori Close. “When the game is on the line and you have a competitive, athletic team and they’ve made a run: Can we be mentally tough enough to get stops and then to execute on the offensive end?”
The Bruins strung off a 9-0 run to open up the first quarter, including a made three by redshirt junior Lajahna Drummer. The forward leads the team in 3-point percentage, shooting 47.1 percent from long range.
“She pretty much starts the game,” Close said. “If she hits that three, now we’re able to get the ball inside to (Billings) so much more effectively.”
Billings logged 18 points and 11 rebounds for her eleventh double-double of the season. Drummer notched her second double-double, with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
After a 30-second timeout with four minutes left in the final quarter, senior guard Jordin Canada drew three defenders before dishing it to Drummer for a wide-open layup to put the Bruins up by seven. The teams would exchange free throws the rest of the way.
“I don’t know how the heck she finds me, but she just finds a way to get the ball through (defenders),” Drummer said. “I’m used to it – I’ve been playing with her like my whole life.”
Canada added 18 points and 8 assists, going 11-for-13 from the charity stripe.
UCLA is now in a three-way tie with No. 9 Oregon and No. 17 Stanford at the top of the Pac-12 standings. Close said that she was impressed by her team’s start and finish to the game, but they need four good quarters to be successful in March.
The Bruins will host Arizona and No. 25 Arizona State next weekend with the opportunity to continue their win streak.