Michaela Onyenwere, among other Bruins, headed toward the bleachers to give kids high-fives after the final buzzer sounded.
“It was just really humbling (because) they were just so happy,” the sophomore forward said. “The love that they have for this game is just so innocent.”
UCLA women’s basketball (2-1) upset No. 14 Georgia (2-1) 80-69 in a come-from-behind win at home Wednesday afternoon on the Bruins’ first-ever Field Trip Day. More than 3,600 students from 37 local elementary and middle schools were in attendance.
“I’m not sure if (the kids) were always yelling because of what was happening in the game, or if it was seeing themselves on the Jumbotron,” said coach Cori Close. “But either way works.”
The Bruins trailed by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, but a three-point play by redshirt senior forward Lajahna Drummer gave UCLA a 68-65 lead with 2:58 left in the game.
UCLA – which had not led since the midway point of the first period – used a 13-point run to turn a three-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
“At that point, we just had a lot of adrenaline going down the stretch,” Onyenwere said. “We had been making them make turnovers, and I think we took that and turned it into momentum.”
Onyenwere scored 17 of her 25 points in the second half and was the only Bruin to play all 40 minutes. Former UCLA guard Jordin Canada – who was in attendance Wednesday – was the only Bruin to play a full game last season.
Onyenwere, a 2017-2018 Pac-12 All-Freshman Team member, scored just 12 combined points in UCLA’s first two games of the season, but her 25 points were a career-high, and she notched her second-career double-double after reeling in 11 rebounds.
There were six lead changes in the first 6:40 of the game, but the Bruins allowed a 13-2 run in the final four minutes of the first quarter and went into the second trailing 22-12.
Georgia shot 53.1 percent from the field in the first half, but Onyenwere said UCLA adjusted defensively, registering 12 steals and forcing 15 turnovers on the game as a team.
“We knew that if we were converting on all the turnovers that they were getting, that we would eventually ice the game to win,” Onyenwere said.
Close said UCLA switched off between a 2-3 zone and man-defense throughout the game depending on which players Georgia was subbing in, and she said that is what helped the Bruins back into the game.
“I think we did it with our defense,” Close said. “That’s what makes me proud because we’ve been struggling with (defense), but that’s what created easier offensive opportunities.”
Senior guard Kennedy Burke – who had 13 second-half points – finished with 21 points, four rebounds and four steals on 8-of-10 shooting from the field.
“I realized that there were a couple of players on their team getting really hot,” Burke said. “So, my teammates trusted me to just have more pride on defense by having good ball pressure and rebounding.”
Georgia out-rebounded UCLA by five in the first half, but the Bruins were able to even it out by the third quarter. Georgia entered the contest averaging 57 boards rebounds per game this season.
“I thought (defense) was an absolute difference-maker,” Close said. “I didn’t think we needed to be plus-10 or plus-11 in the game, but I didn’t think we could win if weren’t at least even on the boards.”
After defeating Georgia, UCLA will not face a ranked opponent until it begins Pac-12 play at the end of December. Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State and California are all ranked in the top 25.
“Honestly, as excited as I was for them, this is November,” Close said. “We need to focus on getting better.”