Bruins’ defensive pressure stifles young Oregon, 79-63

Monique Billings puts up two of her career-high 30 points on the day. Photo by Marvin Jimenez/TG SportsTV1.
Monique Billings puts up two of her career-high 30 points on the day. Photo by Marvin Jimenez/TG SportsTV1.

Los Angeles, Calif. – Monique Billings scored a career-high 30 points and 14 rebounds to lead the No. 17 UCLA Bruins past Oregon, 79-63, for their 22nd consecutive home win on Sunday.

The Bruins’ streak ties the fifth-longest mark in the country. Billings’ explosion was her tenth double-double on the season, and Jordin Canada’s 13 points and 13 assists is her seventh double-double. Kennedy Burke added 16 points and Kelly Hayes, 14.

Two days earlier, UCLA took down No. 10 Oregon State. The Bruins’ two-win stand was an emphatic response to last weekend, when they dropped games to Washington State and Washington on the road.

“I didn’t want to feel like I felt last weekend – that hurt,” Billings said. “So that was my focus, to keep the game simple and do what I know how to do. To trust that Jordin’s going to get me the ball, and to just produce for the team.”

Both Billings and Canada were very productive, in 34 and 40 minutes of play, respectively. Billings shot 11-16, and Canada had eight rebounds, despite being the shortest player on the team.

Ruthy Hebard led the Ducks with 29 points, while Sabrina Ionescu added 18.

Oregon, which saw the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class come in last fall, starts three freshmen – which includes Hebard and Ionescu – one sophomore and a junior. They run quick sets and get the ball where it needs to be, but can’t always finish. Not only was this the case against UCLA, but the hosts used defensive pressure to force Oregon into 20 turnovers – eight of which belonged to Ionescu.

The experience of the Bruins, who reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round last season, showed in other ways, too, as they smashed Oregon on fast break points and scored more than three times their points off of turnovers.

Morgan Yaeger is surrounded by Bruins in the second quarter. Photo by Marvin Jimenez/TG SportsTV1.
Morgan Yaeger is surrounded by Bruins in the second quarter. Photo by Marvin Jimenez/TG SportsTV1.

As they did against the Beavers, the Bruins used full-court pressure defense for most of the game. They only had eight turnovers, and Canada said disrupting the Ducks’ flow was crucial in the win.

“That was one of the keys to the game was we had to create ball pressure and turn them over,” Canada said. “One of the keys to the game was turning them over 20 times. I wanted to set the tone of the game and Sabrina was getting hot, so Coach Cori (Close) put me on Sabrina. I just tried to make sure she knew my presence on defense.”

Close said UCLA’s defense created other opportunities for them.

“I didn’t like our rebounding the first half….but we were winning in the turnover margin, and whenever we can turn someone over, it’s gong to be very hard to stop us in transition,” she said. “So we were able to get some run-outs and easy buckets and our defense, and that was the turning point.”

Oregon outscored the Bruins in the first quarter, 19-14, but Hayes ignited for eight points in the second quarter to fuel a 26-10 run for UCLA. Hebard scored eight and Ionescu 10 points in the third period, but Billings came out firing in the fourth quarter, and her 12 points and five rebounds helped seal the win.

“Probably our No. 1 key we discussed before the game was we couldn’t have live-ball turnovers because we can’t catch them,” Ducks coach Kelly Graves said on Oregon’s post-game radio show. “Unfortunately our primarily ball handlers lost complete composure. Too many stupid turnovers. It crushed us.”

Close said she had been worried about her team’s ability to sustain the same intensity they had against Oregon State. She was happy with their response.

“I knew they were fit enough to do it, but we we going to have to have the mental toughness to wear them down, and we did,” Close said. “We had the fortitude, the selflessness, and we had people coming off the bench to spark us again.”

Billings’ heroics in the fourth period included a missed dunk attempt, which excited the Pauley Pavilion crowd nonetheless. She said there was more where that came from.

“I’ve got a couple dunks in practice, and me and Jordin have been working on getting the chemistry in practice with the passing – getting the right form with the right timing,” Billings said. “I’m going to throw one down one of these days – don’t worry about it.”

Next up for the Bruins is the two-game Civil War series against Southern California. The first game is Wednesday at USC.