USC beats UCLA, to even the score

Kayla Padilla outruns the UCLA offense for 2 of her 13 points on the day. USC Athletics photo.

What a difference two weeks can make.

No. 9 USC extracted revenge on No. 2 UCLA Sunday, holding them off for a 73-65 win and handing them their first loss of the season, as the Bruins had done to them 15 days prior.

The Trojans executed the damage similarly to the way it had been done to them in the team’s first meeting, with suffocating defense, tough physical play and fueled by the energy of a sold-out, raucous crowd.

Freshman JuJu Watkins lead the way for USC with 32 points and 10 rebounds, while McKenzie Forbes added 18 points and Kayla Padilla, 13.

Trojan coach Lindsay Gottlieb said that after their first meeting with UCLA, who held them to 33.4 percent shooting, all but Watkins and Forbes put the rematch out of their minds.

It wasn’t until (last week) that everyone watched film from that game,” Gottlieb said. “Then we knew what we had to do. Our players really understood the game plan, and were able to be more aggressive on the ball.”

They also knew it had to be a total team effort, as starting center Rayah Marshall was ill and couldn’t play.

We knew we needed a bit more from everybody, if we’re losing someone of that caliber,” Gottlieb said.

Both teams were slow to start, with Lina Sontag scoring first for the Bruins with a pair of free throws at the 7:58 mark. A 6-6 tie at 5:07 stood for more than two minutes, and the rest of the period was free throw shots, save for one Lauren Betts bucket with 18 seconds to go.

Officials helped stagnate play in the second with a barrage of fouls called. But a Padilla three-pointer and a Watkins driving layup gave USC a 26-16 advantage at the 3:11 mark. They lead 34-19 at the break.

UCLA’s shooting woes continued in the third quarter, as they went 0-6 from behind the arc in the face of the Trojan’s withering defense. Charisma Osborne, who scored 15 of her 25 on the night in the frame, was the only one able to score, as the hosts padded their lead to as many as 15.

Despite seeing three of their five starters foul out in the fourth period, the Bruins made a run and closed the gap to 63-67 with 54 seconds to go. But some Watkins and Padilla heroics gave USC the last bit of juice they needed to close out the win.

Gabriela Jaquez and Lauren Betts each added 10 points for UCLA, and Angela Dugalic grabbed 10 rebounds. Londynn Jones, who scored 21 points in the last meeting of the two teams, was limited to just 8 on the night. Gottlieb said that was by design.

We talked a lot about Londynn Jones who has kicked our asses a couple of times, and Taylor Bigby chased her all over the court,” she said.

Indeed it was the more experienced Bruins that were on their heels in the rematch, as the Trojans forced them into 22 turnovers, from which they made 23 points, and outscored them in second-chance points, 14-4.

Forbes said her team felt more prepared for the second matchup, and went in with the intention of being the aggressors.

Being on our home court helped us, but as a team, we felt more prepared for the moment – we were together,” she said.

Forbes also said that freshman Watkins – the second-leading scorer in Division I – also stepped up as a leader, after reeling a bit in the team’s first face-off.

JuJu was leading today, and when she’s telling us, ‘let’s go make our free throws, we’re going to get this win,’ how can you not follow that lead?” Forbes said.

Bruin coach Cori Close was straightforward after the game, saying that their opponents “executed their scouting report better than we executed ours.”

We weren’t tough enough, we didn’t rebound well enough, we didn’t have enough passion plays, we didn’t execute our scouting report,” she said. “This is either going to teach us, or it won’t. We’ll find out.”

Close credited Osborne and Jaquez for their spirited play, but acknowledged that it was hard for her players to get into a game rhythm when they couldn’t tell how the game would be officiated. UCLA was called for 32 fouls in the matchup, while USC was whistled for 23.

This is the only day that they weren’t the tougher, more together team,” Close said. “But the rivalry game isn’t the end game. I hope we look back on this game and say that’s when we really started to get it.”

The crowd of 10,657 broke the program attendance record, as it did two weeks earlier for the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion.

Gottlieb said having that many people show up was “overwhelming, incredibly fun and meaningful.”

You have two really good teams who have a combined two losses between us, and they’re to each other,” she said. “Both teams have exciting players – players who people want to see….it’s magical. Both teams have a lot of investment in that. The feeling in the building was electric.”