Onyenwere’s return lifts No. 10 UCLA over Washington in OT, 85-80

Michaela Onyenwere lifted No. 10 UCLA over Washington with a career-high 31 points. Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.
Michaela Onyenwere lifted No. 10 UCLA over Washington with a career-high 31 points. Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

Los Angeles – Michaela Onyenwere’s career-high 31 points propelled No. 10 UCLA past upset-minded Washington in overtime Friday, 85-80.

The junior forward had to watch her then-undefeated Bruins lose their first game of the season last week as she sat on the bench with an ankle sprain. In her return to the court, Onyenwere scored 25 of her points after halftime during a back-and-forth affair in which the hosts had to rally from 15 behind in the second quarter.

Natalie Chou had 18 points, including four three-pointers, which were the only shots from behind that arc that went in for UCLA an uncharacteristically poor shooting night.

It was the second straight overtime game for the Bruins. Afterward, coach Cori Close said she was “exhausted” from what has become a repetitive theme for her team.

“The reality is that we’ve not been mentally locked into our game plan,” Close said. “We haven’t been able to execute for 40 minutes and stay focused on the things we need to take away.”

The Huskies started fast and shot 56 percent in the first quarter to lead 22-11 by its end. They padded their lead to 15 by the 4:35 mark, and UCLA was only able to trim it by 10 at the break.

Onyenwere’s 13 points in the third period paced her team, and her layup at the 1:05 mark tied the game at 47. The Bruins tried to pull away in the fourth, but Washington didn’t let up, as Amber Melgoza scored 10 of her team-high 14 points in the frame, including two free throws in the final seconds to even the score at 70 in regulation.

In overtime UCLA shot a blistering 80 percent in a balanced scoring effort to hold off the visitors.

Missy Peterson led three other Huskies in double figures with 13 points, as the visitors outshot the Bruins from both the two- and three-point lines.

Close lauded Washington’s toughness in the match up.

“I want to give them credit – they are really hard to play against with their zone and the way they overplay things,” she said. “They force you not to be able to play much of a coach’s game. Credit to them: they really got us out of rhythm.”

Close said that while she was proud of the way UCLA stepped up late, the team needs to work on remaining focused.

“(We need to) have better awareness that we’re letting our minds wander,” she said. “We’ve got to work on our mental focus and be able to be present for a higher number of possessions.”

Husky coach Jody Wynn said her team did everything well, except defensively rebound the ball well.

“We played courageously, we scored the ball inside through paint touches and drives, we shot the ball and performed well, except for getting defensive rebounds,” she said. “That’s a back-breaker.”

Washington upset favorite Oregon State in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament, which Wynn said energized the team going into this season.

“I thought it gave us a boost throughout the summer, and kept everybody motivated and hungry,” she said. “They believe they can be successful any night, (even though) this conference is brutal. There are no nights off.”

The Bruins host Washington State Sunday, while the Huskies travel across town to take on USC.