UCLA uses balance, tough defense to rout Vanguard, 87-40

Freshman Chantel Horvat scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in UCLA's exhibition game Sunday. Photo by Arionne Thomas/UCLA Athletics.
Freshman Chantel Horvat scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in UCLA’s exhibition game Sunday. Photo by Arionne Thomas/UCLA Athletics.

Los Angeles – The No. 8 UCLA Bruins used a balanced attack to rout Vanguard, 87-40, in their only exhibition game Sunday.

Senior Monique Billings and freshman Michaela Onyenwere each had 14 points to lead the Bruins, as all 10 who were suited up scored. Freshman Chantel Horvat had 12 points and 11 rebounds, freshman Lauryn Miller scored 12 points and junior Kennedy Burke, nine points and 10 rebounds. Billings played just 17 minutes and senior Jordin Canada, who had eight points, six steals, five assists and four rebounds, tallied only 21 minutes.

The matchup with the Lions allowed UCLA coach Cori Close to experiment with how her new team will work best together on court.

“I got plenty of looks at different combinations today,” Close said. “I wanted to keep Jordin and Monique’s minutes down, and I was able to accomplish that. But the biggest thing was letting the freshman just play. That was my biggest priority was to get those jitters out and see what we could build from.”

Both teams got off to a slow start, with the Bruins shooting 1 for 8 and Vanguard going 1-11 in the first period. At about the halfway mark, with only a small lead, the hosts went to a full-court press and then mounted a lead. They used a 15-0 run to take a 38-11 lead into halftime, and continued their onslaught in the second half, padding their lead to as much as 50 points late in the fourth quarter.

UCLA snatched 64 rebounds, scored 56 points in the paint, dished 20 assists and stole the ball 17 times. Their stingy defense forced the Lions into 23 turnovers, but no one scored a three-point shot until Kelli Hayes and Lindsey Corsaro each did in the fourth quarter.

The Bruins considered their defensive effort a step up from last weekend, when they lost to Texas in a closed scrimmage in Colorado Springs. Close said she was happy to see stifling defense from her team.

“If I had to choose one I’d choose (defense), because I thought the opposite was the case in our closed scrimmage with Texas,” she said. “We were a little lackadaisical on the defensive end, and we’ve been spending 90 percent of our time this week on our defense. I was pleased to see the defensive effort, but we need to be a whole lot more crisp on the offensive end. We’re just not playing with enough purpose and people are getting panicky if that first option isn’t there – what do I do next? Especially when Jordin’s not on the floor.”

Canada said she was satisfied with UCLA’s effort on the day.

“Overall today we bounced back from our Texas scrimmage,” she said. “We’ve got some things to work on, but today was a pretty good job, and it shows the potential of what we can do.”

Close has said this is the deepest team she has ever coached, and it showed in the aggressive play of the freshmen – especially Horvat, who drove for two up-and-under layups. Onyenwere’s ability to finish at the rim will be double-trouble for opponents when Billings is still on the floor.

And there is even more to add, as three players were missing in action against Vanguard. Lajahna Drummer, who sat out last year injured, “took a hit” in practice this week and sat out as a precaution, according to close. Ashley Hearn was away from the team for personal reasons, and Japreece Dean is still waiting to see if the NCAA will grant her a waiver to play before her year-long sit-out period in January is up.

“It’s a work in progress, and we haven’t even added everyone yet,” Close said of the Bruin lineups. “That’s going to be my greatest challenge is how to take advantage of the depth while still having us play with great chemistry and rhythm. And I think it’s going to change dramatically from game to game. Monique and Jordin and probably Kennedy Burke are pretty solid, but we have a lot of different styles to play and it’ll be interesting to see how that changes game to game and how it evolves throughout the year.”

The Bruins open their season at home Friday against San Jose State.