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UCLA women’s basketball defeats USC with season-best defensive performance

UCLA women’s basketball graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas takes on USC guard/forward Rayah Marshall. Thomas put up team-highs of 20 points and seven rebounds on the night. (Chelsea Westman/Daily Bruin staff)

Women’s basketball


By Grace Whitaker

Jan. 20, 2022 9:04 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled IImar’I Thomas’ name.

This post was updated Jan. 27 at 3:26 p.m.

Behind a season-best defensive performance, the Bruins emerged victorious over their crosstown rivals. 

With a season-high 27 turnovers forced, UCLA women’s basketball (8-4, 3-1 Pac-12) defeated USC (9-6, 2-3) at Pauley Pavilion by a score of 66-43 on Thursday night. The Bruins have now won 10 out of the last 12 games in the all-time series between the two teams and have picked up their third consecutive conference victory after starting 0-1. 

The teams traded baskets to begin the game until graduate student forward IImar’l Thomas made a layup to begin a 7-0 Bruin run and put the Trojans into a two-minute-long scoring drought. The Trojans committed a total of eight turnovers in the first quarter, including two shot clock violations forced by the blue and gold. 

“We forced 27 turnovers, so even though we gave them extra possessions with offensive rebounds they had so many empty possessions that fueled our offense,” said coach Cori Close.

UCLA again forced eight turnovers in the second quarter to record a season-high 16 in the first half, which led to 15 points off turnovers. The team also recorded seven steals and held USC to 34.5% shooting from the field in the opening half. 

The Bruins maintained their lead throughout the entirety of the second quarter behind 11 combined points from Thomas and redshirt freshman guard Dominique Onu. On the defensive side, UCLA held USC to 11 points in the period to head into the halftime break with a 37-24 lead.

Thomas said the team’s offensive versatility makes it a tough team to defend, with multiple sources of offense in any given game.

“It makes it hard for other teams to guard us,” Thomas said. “And it just makes it easier for us to move and spread the floor – we’ll go inside-out, we can kind of do it all. And I feel like, on any given night, anybody can have a great game. And that makes us a tough team to play against.”

Thomas, who came into the contest averaging 17.3 points per game, finished the half with 15 of her game-high 20 points while making nine of her 14 shots on the night. The forward also grabbed a team-high four rebounds in the first two periods and finished the game with seven. 

Thomas said despite once again playing with the NCAA minimum of seven players – and without graduate student guard Jaelynn Penn for the first time this season – the Bruins had everything they needed to secure the win.

“We knew that they had a lot of weapons, especially in the post,” Thomas said.  We just wanted to try to pressure the ball and stick to our principles as much as we can and make it tough for them to have their go-to players score tonight.”

To start out the second half, the Bruins made three baskets within the first two minutes while limiting the Trojans to one. UCLA also forced two more turnovers from its opponents early in the period to extend their lead.

Six minutes into the third quarter, UCLA experienced a scoring drought that lasted 2:54, shooting 0-of-4 while allowing two baskets from USC in that span. Despite the lack of scoring, the Bruins managed to force five more turnovers from the Trojans. Thomas ended the drought with a 3-pointer to bring the lead to 16 points with just under four minutes left in the quarter. 

Junior guard Charisma Osborne, who averaged 18.3 points per game coming into this matchup, recorded 11 against USC on 4-of-13 shooting.  Despite the lack of efficient shooting, Osborne was able to contribute in other ways, including a season-high seven assists – all of which came within the first half.

Osborne said she has been working on her skills as a point guard and has been finding more enjoyment in the role as of late.

“I actually just had a conversation with Coach Cori yesterday and I’ve been talking to coach Shannon (LeBeauf) a lot about just embracing being the point guard,” Osborne said. “Today, I was supposed to act as if I was the best point guard ever, so that’s what I was trying to do.”

The Bruins extended their lead to 53-36 by the end of the third quarter while not allowing their margin to dip below 13 points at any point in the period. The Trojans were unable to score in the last 2 ½ minutes of the quarter. 

Beginning the final frame the Trojans ended their previous drought with a made basket by center Clarice Akunwafo. Despite their high rate of turnovers forced and shots missed, the Bruins entered their own drought until 3:15 in, with a made free throw by Osborne followed by a pull-up jumper from graduate student guard Natalie Chou. 

The blue and gold took a 24-point lead halfway through the fourth quarter and limited their opponents to seven points in the period while recording 13 of their own. The Bruins also forced four more turnovers in the quarter.

“We were much more consistent, we responded quicker.” Close said. “This was our most complete, focused game.”

After a blowout win in the two teams’ last meeting Dec. 13, 2020, the Bruins have now won their last three games against the Trojans by a combined 86 points.

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Grace Whitaker | Sports contributor
Whitaker is currently a contributor on the women's basketball beat.
Whitaker is currently a contributor on the women's basketball beat.
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