Michaela Onyenwere said the Bruins wanted to win for a special reason.
“We knew that we were coming back to (redshirt senior guard Chrissy Baird’s) hometown,” the sophomore forward said. “We wanted to make her homecoming really nice for her.”
UCLA women’s basketball (6-5) captured a 78-47 road victory over Illinois-Chicago (2-7) on Wednesday night to get the team’s record over .500.
The Bruins’ matchup against the Flames was only Baird’s third appearance of the season. But the Wheaton, Illinois native played more minutes in Wednesday’s contest than she has all season.
Baird walked onto the team in 2014 and is now a scholarship athlete. Despite going 0-of-4 from the field against Illinois-Chicago, she pulled down two rebounds in UCLA’s win.
The Bruins started game with a 12-0 run and held the Flames to just five points in the first quarter, holding a 39-15 advantage at halftime.
Illinois-Chicago trailed for the entirety of the game, but outscored UCLA 22-19 in the third quarter.
“We had a mental lapse (in the third quarter), but we were able to overcome that,” said redshirt senior forward Lajahna Drummer. “We can’t allow that to happen because we are going to play better teams and that’s going to be a downfall.”
The Bruins held the Flames to 10 points and 21.4 percent shooting in the final quarter.
Coach Cori Close said although UCLA struggled defensively in the third quarter, the Bruins made it difficult for the Flames to follow through.
“We played a really good mix of player-to-player and zone defense, trying to keep them off balance,” Close said. “When we we’re focused in and dialed up, then we were able to execute our game plan.”
The Bruins secured 56 rebounds, 29 of which came from the offensive glass. UCLA ranks fourth in the NCAA for offensive rebounding.
Onyenwere – who had eight offensive boards – led the Bruins in both scoring and rebounding, logging 19 points and 11 rebounds for her third double-double of the season.
“(The) boxing out piece is something we’ve really been focusing on,” Onyenwere said. “We did a better job in getting offensive boards and getting defensive boards and shutting them down.”
Defensively, the Bruins forced a season-high 27 turnovers, 12 of which came in the first quarter.
“(We were) trying to make them feel uncomfortable and not just easily (letting them) move the ball up the court,” Drummer said. “Good credit to our guards and everybody for pressuring the ball.”
Drummer went 6-of-7 from the field, tying her career high of 16 points.
UCLA shot 37.5 percent from the field and went 3-of-21 from behind the 3-point line.
Close said the Bruins took too many 3s.
“They were giving us the 3,” Close said. “Instead of hunting for really good shots, a more high percentage shot and working really hard to make easier opportunities for ourselves, we settled (for the 3).”
The Bruins shot 53.3 percent from the field in the first quarter, but finished the game at the 37.5 percent mark.
“Our biggest challenge was trying not to play down to their level and trying to play strong for forty minutes,” Drummer said. “Let’s not look at the scoreboard, let’s just play.”
UCLA will take a nine-day break and will return home to host Cal Poly on Dec. 28.