Los Angeles, Calif. – No. 21 UCLA used strong defense down the stretch Saturday to run away from surging Oregon, 80-69.
Nirra Fields lead the Bruins with a season-high 31 points, and Jordin Canada added 12 points and a career-high 11 assists. Jillian Alleyne headed up the Ducks’ efforts with 25 points and 16 rebounds, while Jacinta Vandenberg put up 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
It was the second conference win for UCLA, which beat cross-town rival USC earlier in the week, and the first season loss for previously-undefeated Oregon. The game featured fast, physical play that has been representative of the entire Pac-12 this season, which has featured five ranked teams for most of the year so far.
The Bruins got off to a fast start, despite the dominating inside presence of the All-Conference Alleyne, and they took an eight-point lead into the second quarter. But the Ducks capitalized on UCLA’s uncharacteristically low shooting percentage, both near and away from the rim, and closed the gap. They lead 39-35 at halftime, with Alleyne at 15 points and 9 rebounds, and Fields at 11 points.
The third quarter belonged to the hosts, with guard Kari Korver exploding for a trio of three-point shots and Fields adding 9. They outscored Oregon 28-12 in the period. The Ducks made comeback attempts in the fourth quarter, but the Bruins’ defense kept them from getting closer than 8 points. UCLA shot only 32.4 percent, but outrebounded Oregon 45-35 and had five players in double figures.
Bruin coach Cori Close attributed the win to increased defensive effort.
“We hunkered down and started playing defense,” she said of the third quarter. “We weren’t getting stops; they scored 20 in the second quarter and 12 in the third. We made some tactical adjustments, but for the most part we just got stops.”
Close was pleased with UCLA’s total team effort.
“I think this team has a great amount of selflessness,” she said. “It’s not that any one player did great, it’s that UCLA did great. I think our balance is not only reflected in five players in double figures, but in everybody playing a different role all the time and being willing to step up when they’re needed.”
Close said she was also impressed that when the Bruin offense was stutter-stepping, that it didn’t effect their defense.
Alleyne said that Oregon, which has eight new players on the roster this season, lost focus in the second half.
“In the first half we were very focused, very dialed in on what we had to do,” she said. “Going into the second half with a four-point lead, we settled into that, and you can see it in the way we played. We have to stay dialed in and focused the whole game. They got a little run in and we kind of hung our heads, so we just have to stay focused for the whole game.”
Ducks coach Kelly Graves said his team “hasn’t really been challenged much” this season, and that the game against UCLA was a good barometer for their progress.
“I’m more encouraged than discouraged,” he said.
Besides UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford, California and Ariona State have been ranked in the top 25 for most of the season so far, making the Pac-12 one of the nation’s tougher conferences. Both Ducks and Bruins acknowledged that every game now will be a dog fight.
“It’s going to come down to which team wants it more, because any given night, any team can win,” Alleyne said. “Rankings don’t matter right now because this conference is so strong. It’s going to come down to who wants it more, and what team is really going to give more when we reach midseason and everyone’s tired and worn down.
“Who will be moving up and who will be moving down? I think we’re going to be a team that’s still climbing at that point.”
UCLA will face No. 10 Oregon State Monday, and Close said her team will prepare in the same way that it did for Oregon.
“It used to be that you’d have to get up for these big games, but they’re all so big now, because the balance is such that I don’t feel any differently about Monday’s game than I did about today’s game,” Close said.
“It’s a great opportunity with another ranked team coming on your court. The game plan will be similar to what it was today. They’ve got a really great post player just like Oregon does, and they shoot the three extremely well, like Oregon does. So we’re going to have to get them to make plays off the dribble, less off the pass, not let them get comfortable in their offense.”
Oregon plays USC Monday, whom the Beavers routed Saturday.