Los Angeles – No. 13 UCLA used a strong fourth quarter to push past No. 21 Cal, 60-52, Friday and capture the season series between the two teams.
Monique Billings led the Bruins with 14 points and a season-high 18 rebounds, while Jordin Canada and Kennedy Burke each added 13 and Lajahna Drummer scored 12.
The first meeting between the two teams three weeks ago was one-sided, as UCLA won by a 36-point margin. The second matchup was a defensive slugfest, with the Bruins holding the Bears to a season-low four points in the second quarter, and Cal limiting the hosts to eight points in the third.
“You can’t let offense dictate the way you play defense, and we did that for a while,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We are a team that characteristically takes care of the ball. For a short time we let our frustration on offense affect our defensive intensity, but we regrouped. Was this a pretty game? No, but these nights will come.”
UCLA got off to a fast start and led by seven after one period and, despite poor shooting in the second, had a 29-17 advantage at halftime. The Bears opened up the third quarter on a 13-8 run fronted by four baskets and two free throws from Kristine Anigwe, who had sat most of the first half in foul trouble. The Bruins led 37-33 at the end of the frame.
Canada, who had scored only two points in the third period, opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back shots, which seemed to ignite UCLA. Cal fought back, fronted by reserve Jaelyn Brown, who scored seven of her 11 points on the night in the period. They narrowed the Bruin lead to four with 2:06 remaining, but strong play by Burke and Drummer down the stretch put the game out of reach for the Bears.
Close called Billings the best rebounder in the country, and she credited Drummer for helping make plays.
“I’m so proud of Lajahna and how she’s grown,” Close said. “So many people are collapsing on Mo; she’s getting triple-teamed. We need some people who are willing to step up and hit jump shots, who are willing to do the work outside of practice and to deliver in the game. She was able to have Monique’s back in that way.”
Anigwe and Asha Thomas each scored 14 points for Cal.
Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said her team could never find a rhythm, but she appreciated their play after halftime.
“I’m quite proud of our effort in the second half,” she said. “We gave them too much of a cushion in the first quarter, but I loved the look in our eye at halftime, and the way the players talked to each other.”
Both teams see improvements from where they were earlier in the season.
“Our tempo is a lot faster, Drummer said of UCLA. “We’re just more aggressive with the ball, and we’re not lackadaisical.”
Gottlieb said the Bears have effectively assimilated the newcomers to the team.
“We have more depth and versatility because we have pieces that work well together,” she said, “I definitely feel like their chemistry allows me to make adjustments, and it allows them to be coached.”
Sunday the Bruins host Stanford, who won the first round of the series, 76-65. Billings said her team still has a sour taste in their mouths from that game.
“Watching film from when we first played with them, our energy was low and we didn’t have the competitive spirit that we usually have,” she said. “That comes from confidence. We need to be aggressive and pressure their guards.”
Close said UCLA plans to push the pace.
“We’ve got to do a really good job of ball reversal and screening,” she said. “We need to make our jump shots and get the ball to Mo in transition. It’s going to be hard to get her touches in the half court. We’ve got to get stops and play at a high pace and get her the ball before they have a chance to set their defense. It’s going to be a battle of wills.”
“Our team is very disappointed with the tempo at which we played when we were up there, and I think you will see a very different team Sunday.”