No. 8 UCLA, Canada turn on the jets to vault past ASU, 71-63

Jordin Canada drives past Courtney Ekmark to lay it up and in. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Jordin Canada drives past Courtney Ekmark to lay it up and in. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Los Angeles – Nine fourth-quarter points from Jordin Canada helped lift No. 8 UCLA over No. 25 Arizona State, 71-63, in a fiercely-contested matchup Sunday.

Canada had 16 points on the day and dished six of her 10 game assists in the final frame to get by the defense-minded Sun Devils and remain in a three-way tie for first in Pac-12 standings. Canada committed no turnovers.

Lajahna Drummer had a season-high 15 points, while Monique Billings added 14 and Michaela Onyenwere, 12 off the bench in what was the tenth consecutive win for the Bruins.

Coach Cori Close said Arizona State’s effort was what she expected from them, especially since they were upset Friday.

“They gave us all we could handle,” Close said. “We pride ourselves on our defense, and we had a heck of a time matching up with (theirs).”

UCLA led 41-29 at halftime, but slumped in the third quarter and were outscored 20-13 by the visitors, who trailed by only five points at the end of the period. Drummer also stepped up in the fourth, scoring six points and grabbing three rebounds.

Close said she was proud of the leadership shown by Canada and Billings – the team’s top statistical leaders for the last two years. She saw the turning point in the matchup come when Billings saved a ball from going out of bounds, which led to a Canada bucket.

“It felt like, ‘we’re going to make enough plays to win,’” Close said. “(ASU) had three people around (Billings) at all times – that’s how much respect they had for Monique. And much respect for Jordin with 10 assists and zero turnovers.”

“To have such composure in the adversity of the game, such confidence and knowing when to take up the slack…..I was really proud of their leadership in different ways.”

Billings said that going into the fourth quarter, the team knew they had to step up.

“I just remember looking at Jordin and saying, ‘they’re not going to come in our house and get this win,’” Billings said. “That was my mindset: ‘this is our house.’ And she looked at me and said ‘yeah, let’s get it.’”

Robbi Ryan led Arizona State with 14 points, while Courtney Ekmark and Kianna Ibis each added 13.

The Sun Devils, riddled with injuries on top of having a young team this season, has fought hard and gone in and out of the AP top 25 all season. Guard Kiara Russell sustained an ankle injury early in the game and played only four minutes. Coach Charli Turner Thorne said she was proud of her team’s effort in the face of adversity.

“Our starting guards played the entire second half without a sub,” Turner Thorne said. “When (Russell) went out, that could have been a wrap in the second quarter, but we came out and had a really good second half.”

“We were right there to take the game, and missed some shots we should have made. When they missed their shots they had extra effort and got the rebounds, and we need to do that.”

The Bruins remain in a tie with Stanford and Oregon, who also won Sunday, for first place in Pac-12 standings. UCLA travels to Oregon this weekend to take on Oregon State Friday, and the Ducks Monday for conference bragging rights.

Canada said her team is ready to tackle the momentous week.

“We have to be focused,” she said. “I told the team, this is a very important week for us. We have to stay locked in….every day counts….every rep matters. We have to stay focused in practice.”

Billings agreed.

“It’s the reps that are going to give us confidence in the game,” she said. “If we work hard this week, we’ll have confidence in the game.”