Los Angeles, Calif. – Jordin Canada came off the bench Friday to push No. 18 UCLA past No. 9 Washington, 90-79, and split a hard-fought series.
Canada, who didn’t practice all week after an injury Sunday against Oregon State, led five Bruins in double figures with 22 points. Monique Billings added 19 and Nicole Kornet, 15.
Washington dominated the battle between the Pac 12’s two highest-scoring teams last month, but in round two, it was all UCLA. Coach Cori Close credited her team’s ability to change defenses for the win.
“I never felt like they got in that offensive rhythm that they’re so efficient with,” Close said. “I thought that was the difference in the game – we were really able to change the look, so they never got in that zone.”
After a tight first quarter, the Bruins clamped down on defense in the second period, while Canada and Billings got hot, and they climbed out to a 41-28 lead at the 2:36 mark. The Huskies went on a run in the third quarter and cut the host’s lead to two twice in the final minutes. But behind scoring from Canada and Billings, and put-backs by Kennedy Burke, who finished with 12 points on the day, the Bruins again stretched the lead for the convincing finish.
Kelsey Plum, who leads NCAA Division I in scoring, had 39 points for Washington. Chantel Osahor had 16 points and 10 rebounds, her national-best 23rd double-double of the season.
Canada suffered severe neck strain after a collision with Oregon State’s Marie Gulich in the second quarter of Sunday’s game. The conference assists leader took the court Friday and immediately returned to her regular role of pushing the pace. UCLA kept the Huskies on their heels all game long, forcing them into an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers, and capitalizing on second-chance points to out-do them, 18-2. Washington coach Mike Neighbors called the Bruin’s put-backs and rebounds “demoralizing.”
“You play tough defense on these guys and they get second chance points,” he said. “They were really focused, they got the ball in the right spots. Anytime we made a mistake, they made us pay.”
Neighbors said Canada was the difference for UCLA.
“She took a really tough shot against Oregon State, and she’s a really tough kid. So if she’s not playing there’s usually somebody there telling her she can’t play,” Neighbors said. “We knew after the Oregon State game that she’ll probably get back in the lineup. I saw her dressed out and I knew she was going to play.”
“I thought they were very efficient without her, but then they took it to another level with her. She was in command. She really really ran her team, and got the ball to the right people at the right time.”
The game changed the Pac 12 standings yet again, as Oregon State and Stanford are now tied for first place, Washington is in third and UCLA, fourth. With three regular-season games left, seedings in the upcoming conference tournament are anything but certain.
Close called the Huskies “such a good team.” Neighbors had similar praise for the Bruins.
“This is a team that has a lot to play for in March,” he said of UCLA, which advanced to the Sweet 16 last year. “There are only four games left, and they played like a team that really knows what it has to do. They are very consistent, very balanced.”
Not only was it a comeback for Canada, it was a statement win for the Bruins, who lost both games last weekend to the Oregon schools. It was reminiscent of their January road trip to Washington, where they lost both games. But after dropping the game to the Oregon Ducks last Friday, UCLA remained in the locker room for over an hour to do what Close called soul searching and confrontation.
“We had some conversations that were very difficult. We had some confrontations, we talked about how we could be better teammates, demanding energy in practice, our focus,” Close said. “It was one-on-one and as a group. What does it mean for me to be a better coach for you, what does it mean for me to be a better teammate? We were all together.”
“I’ve done this probably about five times in my entire career…..it was probably not one of the most comfortable hours for our team, but it was no-holds barred, and honest. The reality was that everyone was holding up a mirror, asking, ‘what do I want to take responsibility for?’ And being honest about frustrations. Why do we not compete the way we know we can, and that’s unacceptable in our program.”
And though they lost to the Beavers two days later, Close noted the difference in how the team played.
“I was proud of our team at Oregon State. With Jordin down and for us to play with such poise,” Close said. “We lost two games, but the Oregon and Oregon State game were very different feels……I was very pleased with how we competed at Oregon State, because we actually competed.”
Close said they have carried forth the commitments they made to each other last weekend.
“It goes back to who you say you want to be. Are you just going to talk about it, or we going to go with it? It just came to that point……and I thought we made a decision,” she said. “Coming off that weekend we were talking about, what are you going to do? We’ve always said our commitment must be greater than our feelings.”
“That takes courage. It takes courage for an adult, let alone an 18-22-year-old. I’m really proud of their willingness to grow as young women and as teammates, and it really played out on the court (Friday).”
Washington, who went to the Final Four along with Oregon State last year, has been ranked atop the Pac 12 for much of this season, and clinched a bye in the first round of the conference tournament earlier this month. They have lost to Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA, and must beat USC, Utah and Colorado to earn a high seed. Neighbors said he and his team are once again in unchartered waters.
“It’s new for us to have already clinched a bye in the Pac 12 Tournament. That’s new territory for us, so how we handle that down the stretch will be really interesting for me to see,” Neighbors said. “This was the time last year where we made great strides in practice. We’ll if this group can do that. They’ve done everything else we’ve asked them to, so I don’t suspect they won’t be able to.”
Canada, known for her warrior-like mentality on the court, was already playing with flu-like symptoms when she went down at Oregon State. She said she gleaned two objectives from the team meeting after the Oregon game.
“I learned to take care of my body more,” she said. “Also….I (need to work on) creating more urgency for our team. I know it starts with me most of the time, and sometimes I’m inconsistent in those areas in practice. So even though I wasn’t practicing (this week), I was making sure I remained engaged, and was talking to my teammates from the sidelines.”
Plum has advanced up the NCAA Division I all-time career scoring list all season, and now has 3,280 career points – three shy of Brittney Griner’s second-place career mark of 3,283. Jackie Stiles is the all-time scoring leader, with 3,393 points.
Neighbors said Plum has a lot of respect for every player she has eclipsed, but remains focused on team wins.
“I stopped caring about (the record) when she stopped caring about it,” he said.
Canada and Plum played against each other in high school in Southern California, and have remained friends. They shared some words in the post-game handshake line.
“I told her how much I respect her game,” Canada said. “Just when you think she can’t get any better, she does. That motivates me to get better. I let her know that at the end of the game, and told her I was proud of her.”