By: Eric He
Feb. 12, 2016
LOS ANGELES — UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close did not mince words during her halftime sideline interview broadcast to the Pauley Pavilion crowd on Friday against Washington State. “I’m sorry fans, that was awful,” she said, criticizing her team’s lack of intensity before storming away to the locker room.
The No. 14-ranked Bruins (18-6, 10-3) actually led by four at halftime and would go on to beat the Cougars (12-12, 3-10) handily, 73-61, but the way Close described it, they might as well have lost that game.
“This was not a good night for us,” Close said. “We didn’t play with the kind of concentration and consistent effort together that we normally do. That was not the team I’ve seen all year. We’ve got to take responsibility, look in the mirror, and figure out why that took place.”
UCLA shot just 26.5 percent from the field in the first half and managed just 31 points, but picked it up by shooting at a 51.9 percent clip in the second half.
The Bruins put the game away early in the fourth quarter, extending a five-point lead to 15 with an 13-0 run after the Cougars had opened the frame with a three-pointer by Taylor Edmonson to make it a two-point game. The Bruins connected on five straight field goals, and a jumper by Monique Billings that rimmed in extended their lead to 69-54 with just under five minutes to play in the game.
As UCLA piled up the score, Washington State went on a scoring drought that lasted over five minutes and committed seven turnovers in a four-minute stretch.
Billings led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds, dominating the second half.
“There was a segment in the second half when I thought Monique was controlling the game,” Close said. “She was controlling the ball on the defensive end with blocked shots. She was getting rebounds, running the floor, setting great screens, and hitting her inside shots and jump shots. She was the player on the floor that needed to touch the ball early and often.”
Billings is third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.7 points per game.
“I just wanted to bring energy for the team,” she said. “We felt flat [and] we just needed energy.”
She was set up time and time again by Jordin Canada, who had a strong all-around around game with 11 points, eight assists, and four rebounds. This is the 51st consecutive game in which the guard has recorded two or more assists.
“As a point guard, you’ve got to know who’s hot, who to get the ball to,” Canada said. “[Monique] is consistently running and talking to me on every single play. I knew I had to get her the ball. I knew she was hot. I just played off her energy.”
Along with Billings and Canada, Kari Korver, who had 12 points, and Nirra Fields, who finished with 10, were the other Bruins to score in double-figures. It was enough to offset a valiant effort by a Washington State squad on the road, riding a six-game losing streak and holding a 7-51 all-time record against UCLA.
With Washington State down 42-36 midway through the third quarter, Pinelopi Pavlopoulou went on an 8-0 run by herself, hitting consecutive three-pointers that gave the Cougars their first advantage of the night at 44-42.
UCLA answered, though, with nine straight points with Kennedy Burke nailing a three to regain the lead for the Bruins. With the game tied 51-51 late in the third after a corner three-pointer by the Cougars’ Borislava Hristova, Billings hit a jumper plus the foul. The Bruins scored the final five points of the half to take a 56-51 advantage into the fourth.
When asked if she thought her team was going through mid-season fatigue, Close didn’t use it as an excuse.
“I absolutely think we’re tired,” she said. “But I just think that’s the nature of it. This is when you have to make the choice to do things mentally. Everybody’s mentally tired, emotionally tired. So what? Nobody really cares. Everybody’s in the same boat, everybody plays the same amount.”
The Bruins jumped ahead to an early 10-4 lead after a steal and layup by Canada. She then assisted on UCLA’s next two buckets, dishing to Korver for three and Billings for a layup to put the Bruins up 15-6.
With a six-point lead heading into the second quarter, the Bruins went on a 9-2 run to open up the score. But their 25-12 advantage was whittled down quickly by Washington State, which responded with an 8-0 spurt that included back-to-back threes by Taylor Edmonson and Mariah Cooks, and both of them would convert again before the half concluded.
In the meantime, UCLA missed 12 of its last 14 field goal attempts to end the first half, shooting under 30 percent overall, but still led 31-27 heading into the locker room.
Close concurred that this was not the prettiest of games, but lauded her team’s tenacity to grind through the mistakes.
“I like the toughness of our team,” Close said. “They hate to lose. We’ve responded every time in competitive environments. That was just an ugly game all around. It wasn’t our best. I can promise our fans [that] we will come back ready and focused on Sunday.”
The Bruins have a quick turnaround as they will face No. 24 Washington on Sunday at 11 A.M. at home.
This post was originally published on T.G. Sports.