Los Angeles – No. 10 UCLA shook off the sorrow from back-to-back overtime losses last weekend to battle past Colorado, 73-67, Thursday night.
Jordin Canada led the Bruins with 20 points – four of which came in the form of critical free throws in the last 27 seconds of play. She also had 11 assists. It was the senior point guard’s third consecutive game with 20-plus points, and it put her over the 2,000-point mark for her career.
UCLA lost a close game to Oregon State the previous Friday, and saw the same situation unfold Monday at Oregon, where a win would have inched them closer to a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title. The sting of those losses showed against the Buffs, as the Bruins seemed to lack energy early. Coach Cori Close said she was disappointed that her team “came out flat.”
“I thought we let our feelings get the best of us a little bit today,” Close said. “Unfortunately, that’s been a weakness of ours, when we’ve had disappointing losses….when we lost to Connecticut (in November), it took us a little bit to get back into the swing of the way we wanted to play, and the energy we want to play with.”
“We were really disappointed (last weekend). To lose those two overtime games with plenty of opportunities….if I were to attribute (the lack of energy) to something, it’s that we stayed in that disappointment too long.”
Monique Billings, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for her 44th career double-double, pushed UCLA in the first half to a 35-27 halftime lead. But back-to-back shots by the Buff’s Alexis Robinson to begin the third quarter put the hosts on notice. Canada, who was scoreless in the first half, poured in 14 points in the frame to pad her team’s lead to 13 going into the fourth.
Colorado battled back in the final period, and a pair of Mya Hollingshed free throws at 1:31 tied the game at 64. Kennedy Burke then iced a three-point shot 18 seconds later, and the free throws by Canada and Michaela Onyenwere carried the Bruins to victory.
Burke, Onyenwere and Japreece Dean each added eight points for UCLA. Robinson scored a career-high 31 points for the Buffs, while Kennedy Leonard added seven points and 11 assists.
Canada said she was able to accelerate in the last two quarters of play because she relaxed her approach.
“I just let the game come to me in the second half,” Canada said. “I got good looks and my teammates set me up and put me in great positions.”
Close credited Billings for keeping the team’s energy up in the first half.
“I think Monique could sense we were flat….and she kept talking (to the team) and telling them, ‘we need more urgency,'” Close said.
The first time Colorado and UCLA met this season, on the Buff’s home court in January, the Bruins got off to a 16-0 start and went on to an easy 93-55 win. Colorado coach JR Payne said she pulled out film from the matchup to watch this week, and found it almost worthless.
“We’re such a drastically different team than we were the last time we played them. We’re playing together, we’ve got great chemistry, we’re rebounding more aggressively,” Payne said. “Our young kids have really grown up in the last month.”
“We’re playing well, we’re playing together. I love where our team is right now. Our fearlessness and our competitiveness on the court was pretty evident today.”
The Buffs play USC next, and UCLA hosts Utah. Close said her team is prepared to play with more energy and focus than they did against Colorado.
“We have to focus and lock into the game plan. We have to know that we can’t lose on our home court,” Billings said.