Battle of the Editors: Top UCLA sports moments from this year
(Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)
With the world screeching to a halt in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the loss of collegiate sports seems like just another drop in the bucket. But dozens of UCLA student-athletes had their seasons cut short and thousands of fans were robbed of seeing the Bruins emerge on the biggest stages this spring.
However, UCLA Athletics still left its mark on this shortened year, and the Daily Bruin Sports editors battled over which singular moment stood out the most.
Football’s comeback against Washington State – Sept. 21, 2019
Sam Connon, Sports editor
The Bruins were winless, on the road and facing a 32-point deficit with 18:48 left in the game.
ESPN’s Win Probability chart gave UCLA football a 0.01% chance to escape with the win after then-No. 19 Washington State scored to go up 49-17 midway through the third quarter in Pullman.
What happened next was not only unpredictable, but it was also unheard of – this was no ordinary comeback.
UCLA had staged miraculous comebacks in the past – most recently against Texas A&M in the 2017 season opener – but this time, proven clutch performers Josh Rosen, Caleb Wilson, Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley were nowhere to be found.
This time around, UCLA put up 29-straight points to spark a 43-7 run, culminating in a 69-yard punt return touchdown by redshirt freshman receiver Kyle Philips. It was the second special teams score by the Bruins that night, as redshirt junior running back Demetric Felton brought a kickoff back 100 yards in the second quarter.
It took UCLA just shy of 13 minutes to flip a 32-point deficit into a four-point lead, but Washington State answered with a 65-yard bomb by quarterback Anthony Gordon that gave the Cougars the lead yet again.
Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruin offense got the ball back with 2:27 left to play, and they successfully capped off the comeback with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Felton over five minutes later.
A strip sack by redshirt senior linebacker Keisean Lucier-South, who was making his season debut, sealed the victory, and the Bruins won their first game of the 2019 season 67-63.
The game featured 1,077 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and seven turnovers between the two teams, making it one of the crazier games in recent memory. Thompson-Robinson set the UCLA record book ablaze with 564 total yards and seven total touchdowns, proving to his critics he could show up in big games.
Beyond the heightened drama and highlight plays in the moment, the comeback also marked the start of a 4-2 stretch that put the Bruins in position to win the Pac-12. That didn’t edit up coming to fruition, but it is undoubtedly the most unforgettable night of the Chip Kelly era so far.
Women’s soccer’s upset rivalry win – Nov. 8. 2019
Jacqueline Dzwonczyk, assistant Sports editor
Junior forward Ashley Sanchez kept it cool in her postgame interview following then-No. 14 UCLA women’s soccer’s win over then-No. 9 USC at Wallis Annenberg Stadium in the teams’ final contest of the regular season.
“I mean, what rivalry?” Sanchez said.
The comment alluded to the fact that the Bruins’ 4-2 win was their fourth straight over the Trojans. But for most of the game, it was unclear whether that winning streak would hold.
USC took an early lead in the fifth minute with a goal from forward/midfielder Natalie Jacobs before UCLA redshirt senior forward Chloe Castaneda equalized 21 minutes in – contributing to her six goals across the final eight games of the season.
Freshman forward Mia Fishel soon gave the Bruins the lead when she scored her ninth goal of the year. Once again, though, the score was tied up after a goal late in the first half from Trojan forward Penelope Hocking, who finished the season as the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer.
That was the end of the back-and-forth affair.
In the 75th minute, junior midfielder Viviana Villacorta made a tracking run to the back post, timing it to collect the rebound from junior defender Delanie Sheehan’s shot and redirect it into the back of the net.
Her teammates tackled her into a dog-pile, and the sold-out crowd at Wallis Annenberg Stadium – which was hosting its first crosstown rivalry matchup – erupted at the sight of what would be the game-winning goal.
Even with the lead late in the game, the Bruin offense didn’t let up. Sheehan ripped another shot from distance that hit the crossbar, and this time it was Sanchez who followed up the rebound, heading the ball across the box for junior defender Lucy Parker to head into the back of the net.
The assist was Sanchez’s 39th in less than three years in Westwood, which broke the program record for career assists.
With the win, UCLA secured a second-place conference finish and a No. 2 seed for the NCAA tournament.
Women’s water polo’s win over USC – Feb. 9, 2020
Jack Perez, assistant Sports editor
Although the season would eventually be cut short, coach Adam Wright finally got a win over his biggest rival.
Following his appointment during the summer of 2017, Wright and UCLA women’s water polo had fallen to USC in seven straight contests, including losses in two straight championship matches at the Triton Invitational.
The 2020 season had brought about challenges for both squads. The Trojans were still adapting to life under new coach Marko Pintaric, who took over for former coach Jovan Vavic when he was fired in March 2018.
UCLA had to deal with the loss of two of its top players to Olympic training and had already been upset by UC Santa Barbara earlier in the year. However, the Bruins came into the matchup riding a 12-game winning streak and averaged over 14 goals per game in their first three games of the 2020 Triton Invitational.
The teams started off the game with three goals combined within the first 64 seconds before going over nine minutes without another score. USC would eventually take a 3-2 lead with the first quarter-and-a-half gone.
After that, UCLA ran off a three-goal run over the next eight minutes, highlighted by two goals from freshman utility Abbi Hill scoring in her first-ever match versus USC. Hill would be one of six Bruins to net a goal in the game and the only one to score more than once.
The Bruins kept the Trojans at bay with a 2-1 scoring advantage in the final frame to down them 7-5, snapping USC’s seven-year winning streak in La Jolla, California, and claiming UCLA’s only tournament win of the year.
Between Hill’s emergence as a go-to scorer and a rare win against a top-ranked crosstown rival, the Bruins showed off the potential that Wright and his staff could have molded into a title-winning team come May.
Gymnastics’ history-making meet versus Utah – Feb. 23, 2020
Coral Smith, assistant Sports editor
Bruin gymnasts are known for making history in Pauley Pavilion, but they outdid themselves versus their conference rivals this season.
Then-No. 3 UCLA gymnastics might have lost its rivalry meet versus then-No. 3 Utah, but the Bruins gave fans a show in their season-high scoring performance.
Senior Grace Glenn had been inching closer to a perfect score on the balance beam all year long, and the beam specialist finally stuck the landing versus the Utes, scoring the first 10 out of the leadoff spot on the beam in NCAA history.
With just one rotation left, I thought that moment was going to be the main story of the afternoon. But junior Nia Dennis had something to say about that.
All season, I had been waiting to see which of UCLA’s unique floor routines would become the next viral internet sensation. That gymnast would follow in the footsteps of former Bruins Katelyn Ohashi, Hallie Mossett and Sophina DeJesus, who were responsible for viral floor routines of their own each of the last four years.
Amid a top-ranked 49.800 team score on the rotation, Dennis took the floor for her Beyoncé-inspired routine, tumbling and dancing her way through a performance that left the crowd screaming for the perfect 10.
While one judge did not think Dennis’ routine reached perfection, the internet disagreed. The video went viral within a week, eventually accumulating over 30 million views online.
Being able to watch both of these momentous routines in person in one afternoon was the highlight of the entire year of sports for me, and judging by the response online, I’d say most UCLA fans would agree.
Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s game-winning 3-pointer – Feb. 27, 2020
Jared Tay, assistant Sports editor
In the press box of Pauley Pavilion, UCLA Athletics posts a placard at each of the seats warning working press members that cheering is unacceptable.
Admittedly, I broke that rule once.
Those posted guidelines went out the window when freshman guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. drained a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left to give UCLA men’s basketball a 75-72 win over Arizona State in the Bruins’ second-to-last game at Pauley Pavilion.
As I was simultaneously scrambling to write the game wrap while and filming the moment from my phone, I watched the shot go down and heard the hometown crowd erupt. And as I rewatch the video over and over again, I can see the video shake right as the shot went in, and hear myself fail to hold back a victory yell in the background.
— Jared Tay (@JaredTayDB) February 28, 2020
Jaquez’s shot capped arguably one of the best games I have seen in Pauley Pavilion. I watched the Bruins storm back from an early deficit on the back of 19 first-half points from freshman guard/forward Jake Kyman – 15 of those coming from deep.
I witnessed a late second-half push by the Sun Devils, and was forced to rewrite most of my prewritten game recap again. So when Jaquez swished that 3-pointer to give the Bruins their sixth-consecutive win – thrusting them to the top of the Pac-12 standings and pushing them even closer to an NCAA tournament berth – I couldn’t help but scream.
Better yet, I had written a feature story on Jaquez as part of Daily Bruin Sports’ men’s basketball insert for the upcoming Arizona game that was being sent to the printer that night. The Jaquez feature would be on newsstands the morning after, so to say timing was perfect would be an understatement.
It seemed the stars were aligned that night, making for my favorite sports moment of the year – and perhaps in all my time with Daily Bruin.