UCLA uses strong third quarter to run away from USC, 72-65

Lajahna Drummer takes flight to lay the ball up. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Lajahna Drummer takes flight to lay the ball up. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Los Angeles – UCLA used a strong third quarter push to erase a halftime deficit and run away from USC, 72-65, Sunday in the first match up of the season for the rivals.

Michaela Onyenwere paced the Bruins with 27 points and 12 rebounds, while Lajahna Drummer put up 10 points and grabbed 14 boards. Kennedy Burke added 11 points. It was the Pac-12 Conference opener for both teams, and the fifth straight win for UCLA.

The Trojans went on a 16-3 run in the first quarter, out-hustling the visitors, who committed seven turnovers. The Bruins were within four points midway through the second period, but USC made five of their last seven shots to take a 39-28 advantage into the break.

UCLA opened a blistering third quarter on an 8-0 run, which included three-point shots from Onyenwere and Burke. Drummer scored the last eight points of the frame, which included a put-back shot after a missed free throw and a buzzer-beating three-point shot that capped a 31-10 run. USC cut their deficit to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Bruins responded with a 9-4 run to push their lead back to double-digits.

Minyon Moore led the Trojans with 18 points, while sister Mariya Moore scored 14.

UCLA coach Cori Close said her team struggled early because they didn’t play the way they had prepared to coming into the match up.

“The first half we didn’t execute our game plan,” she said. “I didn’t think we were the tougher team. We didn’t have the focus we needed to have.”

At halftime, Close said players “chose a different response.”

“We played with much more toughness and focus,” she said. “I challenged the team in the locker room: if we match their intensity and consistency with effort and rebounding on the defensive end, we’re going to have a really good year.”

Part of that game plan was clamping down on defense. The Bruins not only shot 58 percent in the third quarter, but they held their opponents to 23 percent.

“We were letting our frustration on the offensive end affect our defense,” Close said of the first half. “We had to take away drive rights. It was taking away right-hand drives, forcing contested jumpers and getting boards.”

The loss was USC’s second on the year, with the first coming at No. 23 Texas A&M. Coach Mark Trakh said he saw similarities between the two games.

“The first half (against UCLA) was perfect,” he said. “We were under control, we made good decisions, we played good defense, we got good shots. The same thing happened at Texas A&M – we were playing good basketball, and we hit that stretch where we weren’t making good decisions.”

Trakh said the team “accepted their lead” at halftime and returned to the floor with a bit less focus.

“Starting the third quarter, we didn’t make very good decisions on the fast break, and we lost a lot of points on the floor….from missed layups,” he said. “We need to slow down…..we lack cohesion at certain points of the game.”

Onyenwere, a sophomore, reached at least 25 points for the fourth time this season, and was two shy of her career high. Drummer said her teammate is making a big difference for the Bruins.

“I love playing with her – I think she’s a beast,” Drummer said. “We just continue to try to find her and feed her. They send two or three people at her, and she’s doing a great job of staying poised and finding her shot.”

Both teams travel to the Bay Area this weekend to face No. 6 Stanford and No. 14 Cal.