Los Angeles – Effective defense, good rebounding and dominating post play paced Colorado to a 67-54 win over UCLA Friday.
It was the 17th victory of the season for the Buffs and their first win at Pauley Pavilion since the 2013-2014 season, which predated coach JR Payne’s tenure. They are now tied for sixth in Pac-12 play, and are gunning for their first NCAA Tournament berth in nine years.
“We wanted us to come in aggressive because we’re trying to lock in for the postseason, which would be a first for many of us,” junior guard Jaylyn Sherrod said. “We’re just trying to get better.”
Colorado started to break away in the second quarter with two mini-runs, and then capitalized on free throws in the final minute. They began the third period on a 22-6 run to increase their advantage to 16 points. The Bruins responded and cut the deficit to 49-41, but the visitors answered with back-to-back layups by Quay Miller, and a Mya Hollingshed jumper.
Though they only scored 8 points in the final frame, the Buff’s defense limited UCLA to 0-4 from behind the arc, and 10 points total. Hollingshed led the effort with 19 points, while Miller had 11 and Sherrod and Peanut Tuitele each contributed 10 points.
As a team, Colorado outrebounded their opponents in the paint, 42-26, and limited them to 33 percent shooting while putting up 47 percent of their own shots. Payne said coaches prioritized rebounding all week long, and it paid off.
“We knew if we didn’t keep them off the offensive glass, we’d have a hard time here,” she said. “We also prioritized pace, execution and defense in the half court.”
The win was their third out of the last four games, and was just as important psychologically as record-wise. The Buffs began the season 14-0, and was the last undefeated team in the nation before losing to No. 2 Stanford Jan. 14. After that they dropped three straight, and two more after one win.
Payne said her veteran group took the opportunity to evaluate themselves and each other, and to hold each other accountable for change.
“They took ownership. They realized that we can all be better,” Payne said. “They realized that we can pull ourselves out of a slump.”
Sherrod said that strategy is paying off.
“I feel really good about our defense tonight. That’s what really gets us going, because we’re a transition team,” she said. “We’ve got to finish better, but were starting to get to that point of being a mature ball club. Everybody scored today, so we’re starting to get a balanced offense.”
As they usually do, Colorado players were vocal on the bench during the matchup, cheering their teammates on. Sherrod said the support keeps everyone going.
“Coach always says our energy is our super power, and when we’re energized and locked in and we’re celebrating each other’s successes, we’re a really dangerous ball club,” she said. “We just play off that energy and it feeds everybody, whether it’s an and-one or taking a charge. Our energy comes from our defense.”
The Buffs have cycled in and out of the AP top 25 rankings three times this year, while the Bruins began the season ranked 20th, and fell out in late November as they battled with injuries and a brand new roster. At 11-10 now, UCLA has lost 7 out of their last 9 games. Getting to the NCAA Tournament, which they haven’t missed since 2015, will be challenging.
Coach Cori Close said the responsibility for the loss to Colorado belonged to her team.
“I’m mad for our lack of emotional discipline today,” she said. “At halftime I asked if they had fought the other team or their inner demons, and they admitted 70-30 that it was their inner demons. There were a lot of missed opportunities that were due to lack of self-control and we need to get better with that. And that’s on me.”
Close said the loss wasn’t for lack of preparedness.
“We have plenty of talent, but we didn’t play connected, and that’s why I’m mad,” she said. “There are very few people on our roster that executed the scouting report.”
Charisma Osborne, who was one of three Bruins in double figures with 10 points, said not executing the scouting report has been “a consistent thing” for the team.
“We need to do a better job of that, and having each other’s backs….just locking in,” she said.
Another issue for UCLA has been what Osborne characterized as group momentum lulls.
“Energy is contagious, and when one person goes into themselves then someone else sees that and then another person…..and then pretty soon it’s like, ‘they’re not doing their thing and I’m not doing my thing,’” she said. “If you have a down moment, that’s OK, but get back into it.”
“I think we need to play more together as a team – especially on defense.”
After playing at USC Sunday, the Buffs finish conference play hosting the Oregon schools. The Bruins host Utah Sunday and travel to Arizona the following weekend.