Los Angeles, Calif. – Jordin Canada’s free throws in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter lifted No. 14 UCLA past upset-minded Washington, 63-59.
Canada lead three Bruins in double figures with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists, while Monique Billings and Nirra Fields each added 13. Kelsey Plum posted 32 points for the Huskies, to along with Talia Walton’s 19 points and Chantel Osahor’s 16 rebounds.
Washington took an early lead as Plum began drilling shot after shot, and the Bruins fell behind by 17 points with just under one minute remaining. The Huskies lead 26-13 at the end of the period. The Bruins began the second quarter on a 14-4 run, cutting the lead to 3 at the 5:26 mark. The fast-paced, back-and-forth play continued, and the visitors took a 36-35 advantage into halftime.
The lead changed three times in the third period, which saw each team score 12 points. The fourth quarter began with another three lead changes, but it wasn’t until a Kennedy Burke three-pointer with 2:49 to go that gave UCLA a 59-55 lead – their biggest of the game. Both teams traded buckets and fouls for the next two-plus minutes, but Canada’s charity shots with 2 seconds remaining sealed the win.
Bruin coach Cori Close was pleased with her team’s effort, but wants more.
“It was better effort, but I still think we can play faster,” she said. “We need to play with more possessions and more tempo. I still think there’s more in us. I think we need to play with just an enthusiasm and an athleticism that makes the game a little bit chaotic and allows us to get those run-outs.”
UCLA took sole possession of third place in the Pac-12 with the win. Injury-riddled Washington, who is playing seven, stands in fifth place. Coach Mike Neighbors acknowledged the Huskies’ mistakes in the game.
“I thought we got off to a great start, and then we turned it over a few times and allowed them to get out into transition,” he said. “Then they got into the flow and kept us from getting in transition. So the chess match got going there, going back and forth. And it went down to the buzzer, like we often do. It’s been a great series with them recently.”
Plum, who has been the Division I leading scorer for most of the season, and is now second, said having a short bench is a challenge.
“They’re a very good team, very athletic, they’re deep and good at a lot of positions,” she said of UCLA. “We feel like we should have won this game, but we’re playing with seven, playing a lot of minutes and asking people to do things outside their role, so I’m just really proud of our fight every night.”
Close said the Bruins worked together to slow down Plum, who had 21 points in the first half.
“You’re never going to stop Kelsey Plum by yourself – it’s not going to happen,” she said. “Playing up-tempo made her play up tempo, and that played out later in the game.”
Plum said her focus is on doing what’s best for the team.
“I think the thing is, every time we play, I know that for our offense to be effective, I have to start out aggressive,” Plum said. “Every game plan changes. With UCLA, they’re very athletic and it’s hard to get to the rim, so I have to pull up. I got my shot going in the first quarter.”
“I don’t think of trying to score, I just want to help my team win. Right now we’re low on bodies and one of my roles is to score a lot.”
One month ago, when the Bruins and Huskies met for the first time this year, it was Washington that walked away with the win. Close said Sunday’s victory is a good sign for UCLA.
“They’re well-coached, they do a great job, they have some really good individual players, they play well together, and so do we,” she said. “It’s sort of a battle of styles, but we have a mutual respect for each other. I like our team, I like the character they’re showing and their maturity, and I can’t wait to go into this home stretch with them.”
Neighbors said that despite the injury challenges, he sees much progress for the Huskies and is optimistic that they can receive an NCAA Tournament bid.
“I think we’re doing exactly what we want to do – we keep getting better, we’re in really great shape, we’ve got a good plan, we’re executing it, and we’re going to keep getting stronger,” Neighbors said. “We know where the finish line is now. I think last year we kind of thought the finish line was selection Monday. Now the finish line is in a different spot.”
The new finish line? Further up the road than last year’s first round exit.
“Hopefully the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament,” Neighbors said. “That first weekend is good to play in, and a lot of people get to it. But that second weekend is really something special the few times I’ve been on teams that have got there, its really special.”