Los Angeles – No. 8 UCLA erased more doubt Saturday with a commanding 82-68 upset of No. 3 Baylor.
The Bruins rallied after a slow start and withstood a fourth quarter Bear run to mark their first upset of a top-three team since 2008, ending an 0-22 record in such matchups.
Monique Billings led UCLA with 21 points, while Jordin Canada scored 20 points and dished 13 assists, and Kennedy Burke added 19 points. Kalani Brown was the top scorer for Baylor, with 33 points.
It was the second strong showing of the year for the Bruins, who scored a program-record 129 points in their season opener last week. But the game against the Bears was a culmination of sorts for seniors Canada and Billings, who have been a part of hard-fought losses during their tenure, including one to Baylor in Waco last year.
In that game, the hosts came out in the second half on a run for which UCLA had no answer. This time around, the shoe was on the other foot, and Bruin coach Cori Close said it was with her seniors leading the way.
“The difference is maturity and poise,” Close said. “Last year when we went down in the second half when they made their big run, we didn’t have an answer tactically or emotionally. But nothing took the wind out of our sails tonight.”
The Bears got off to a hot start, and led 12-4 midway through the first period before a Burke jumper ignited a 16-2 run to close out the frame. Things stayed fairly even in the second and third quarters, with Canada and Brown leading their teams in scoring.
The fourth period began with a 9-2 Baylor run, which cut the Bruin lead to 62-58 at the 7:25 mark. It was another Burke shot – this time, a three-pointer – that changed the momentum of the game, and UCLA padded their lead back up to as much as 17 to close out the upset. Billings scored 12 of her points in the last quarter.
The Bruins were loose before the game, returned to the court after the halftime break smiling, and remained composed throughout the Bear’s comeback run. Close said it was by design.
“This is a great, monumental step forward for us, but…we expected to win,” she said. “We expected to come in and take care of what we needed to do. We talked about having the ‘I will’ mentality. ‘Whatever it takes, I will do it.’ There was a calm.”
“We did exactly what we set out to do, through ups and downs. They made some runs, we made some runs. But I’m really proud of the maturity and poise of our team.”
Billings said UCLA never lost focus in the fourth period, and she credited Canada for guiding the ship.
“Jordin sets the tone with that, she has a calm vibe about her,” Billing said. “Going out of that timeout, we knew we were going to be OK, that we just had to keep fighting and keep playing.”
Canada said she had anticipated that Baylor would make a run or two.
“It was about staying composed, and that’s what we did,” Canada said. “We didn’t get frazzled and we just did us, and that was what was important. When they did come out and punch first, we didn’t give up, we didn’t sink. We stayed aggressive and followed the game plan.”
The Bears were missing head coach Kim Mulkey and starter Lauren Cox. Mulkey was with her daughter, who lost a baby Friday, and Cox was resting after a brief hospitalization for diabetes mellitus complications. Associate coach Bill Brock was on the sidelines Saturday, and said the week had been emotional for the team.
“The life lessons these kids had thrown at them this week, that’s some big time adult life lessons, to have to deal with that adversity,” he said. “I was very proud of them the way they fought back and the way they handled themselves.”
Last year it was Baylor with the most veteran team of the matchup, but now it is the battle-tested Bruins in that position.
“There is no substitute for experience in games like this,” Brock said. “These people who are seniors right now for UCLA, at one point they were freshman, and they had to learn and play against some older players. Like I told our freshmen today, you saw how empty possessions in a game, and unforced turnovers, are just huge.”
Brock called the Bruins “a tremendous team.”
“We knew they would throw a lot of people at Kalani, and they did…..five different people,” he said. “They have great team balance – they have good ball handlers and good post presence.”
UCLA’s home winning streak is now 32 – second only to No. 1 Connecticut, whom they host Tuesday.