It was all smiles for the Bruins as they filed off the court.
UCLA women’s basketball (4-5) secured an 89-80 victory against Fresno State (4-3) on Friday evening to snap its four-game losing streak.
Coach Cori Close said she saw clear improvement in the team’s performance, especially in the Bruins’ second-quarter play.
“We addressed some of our growth areas today,” Close said. “The second quarter has been our Achilles’ heel in the past, but that was our best quarter (tonight).”
After Fresno State knocked down a jumper to take the lead 19-17 in the start of the second quarter, Close called a timeout to get her team going.
“The general message was that we needed to pick up our focus,” said redshirt freshman guard Lindsey Corsaro. “We’ve been working on our focus, especially in the second quarter, where we’ve struggled a little bit in games in the past. I thought we responded after she got us going.”
UCLA averaged only 12 points in the second quarter in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, and put up 10 points in the second against Indiana last week. However in Friday night’s game against the Bulldogs, the Bruins went 8-of-17 from the field, scoring 23 points in the quarter.
Sophomore forward Michaela Onyenwere led UCLA in a 6-0 run in the second quarter, which put the Bruins on top for the remainder of the contest.
“My teammates have a lot of confidence in me,” Onyenwere said. “Just having that confidence in myself and my teammates having confidence in me (is what) fuels me.”
Onyenwere went 9-of-13 from the field, logging a third career high this season of 29 points on the game. She had 14 points in the second quarter alone, outscoring the entire Bulldogs team, which was held to only 12 points in the quarter.
Senior guard Japreece Dean accompanied Onyenwere in scoring, putting up 23 points of her own despite entering the second half with only four points. She also recorded a double-double on the game with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
“(Dean’s) battle has been that when she gets frustrated, she wants to do well so badly that sometimes it gets the best of her,” Close said. “More than all of her statistics, … more important for me was the way she fought her own adversity and the way she continued to lead through that.”
Dean went 4-of-6 from the field and shot 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in the second half. All of her 3-pointers were assisted by redshirt freshman guard Lindsey Corsaro.
“It’s funny because a lot of the 3s I made, (Dean) assisted on, and a lot of the 3s she made, I gave her the pass,” Corsaro said. “It’s fun to play off (Dean) and be in a rhythm together.”
The Bruins forced the Bulldogs to shoot behind the paint, holding them to shooting less than 36 percent from behind the arc. Despite allowing Fresno State to close the gap to make it three-point game in the fourth quarter, UCLA’s defense shut out the Bulldogs on two consecutive possessions to steal the win.
“We were doing a great job when we started stopping the 3-point line, and we got two straight stops when the pressure was highest,” Close said. “I think that the difference was the defensive end. … I thought the defense was the anchor in those last few minutes.”
Freshman guard Kiara Jefferson put up a season high of 11 points. She had a cumulative total of 13 points on the season coming into the game.
Jefferson extended the Bruin’s fourth-quarter lead with two back-to-back 3-pointers in the final five minutes of the game.
“I think we are at that point in the season where we are starting to really define our roles on this team,” Close said. “I think for (Jefferson), she really played her role well tonight.”
UCLA also saw growth in its free-throw shot percentage. The Bruins entered the game shooting an average of just under 63 percent from the free-throw line. But on Friday night, UCLA went 28-30, shooting just over 93 percent.
“The free throws helped us a lot,” Onyenwere said. “We have been doing not so well with our free throws, but it helps that we have been visualizing our free throws during every practice. I think that helps my mental game.”
The Bruins will have the opportunity to sustain this momentum and continue seeing this improvement when they face Oklahoma State at home on Dec. 16.