UCLA women defeat Colorado, can earn No. 2 seed on Sunday

LOS ANGELES — Having lost two of its previous four games, the UCLA women’s basketball team knew things had to change during its final homestand of the regular season. Sluggish starts brought on by shooting slumps were leading to mental lapses throughout games that allowed opponents to linger deep into games.

“We haven’t been having as much fun because we know deep down we haven’t been playing as well as we need to,” UCLA coach Cori Close said.

The ninth-ranked Bruins went into Friday night’s game against Colorado determined to play better, smarter and more as a team, knowing these last few games would have a significant impact on their seeding for the Pac-12 Tournament and beyond. And when the final buzzer sounded following the Bruins’ 62-52 victory, Close knew her team had done just that.

“I don’t think it was really anything different for us, I just think it was us focusing better,” Close said. “Us executing the game plan better. Us focusing on our strengths and what we needed to do to play to our bests. … That’s a step in the right direction.”

UCLA (24-4 overall, 13-4 Pac-12) moved into a tie for second place with fourth-ranked Stanford and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cardinal (24-5, 13-4). Defeat Utah (13-15, 6-11) in Sunday afternoon’s regular-season finale, and the Bruins secure the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament.

Avoiding a fourth-place finish comes with the perk of remaining on the opposite side of the bracket from top seed Oregon (27-2, 16-1). As the No. 2 or 3 seed, the Bruins could only face the third-ranked Ducks in the championship game. Arizona (23-5, 12-5) is in fourth and closes its season against last-place Cal on Sunday in Tucson.

“Honestly, I don’t think it means much to me,” said Japreece Dean, who had 12 points on Friday. “I know it’s better for us in the Pac-12 and who we play, but I’m not too focused on where we are.”

UCLA was led by junior forward Michaela Onyenwere with 16 points. In her first game back after sitting out two games with an injury, redshirt junior guard Natalie Chou had 10 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots. Freshman guard Camryn Brown tied her career-high with eight points in 22 minutes, as the Bruins posted their first wire-to-wire win in Pac-12 play this season.

“Obviously starts have been a real struggle for us and so it was nice to have our best quarter be our first quarter,” Close said. “I was really pleased with how we got more high-percentage shots, we finished better, we let our offense create easier opportunities tonight. … (I’m) really proud of a lot of people who stepped up.”

UCLA played well defensively, holding Colorado to 23 points in the first half, though the teams combined for 36 turnovers. Colorado (16-12, 5-12) made more mistakes, unforced and otherwise, with 19 turnovers. The Bruins were sloppy as well with 17 turnovers but had control of the game throughout in bouncing back from Sunday’s 74-68 loss at Washington.

UCLA led 20-8 in the first quarter, as the Buffaloes had six turnovers and shot just 27.3 percent from the field, going scoreless for a stretch of nearly six minutes.

“We know that defense is our anchor,” Brown said. “When we lock in on defense and we’re super energetic and really focused on the defensive end, it really calms us down on the offensive end. It makes our shots a lot easier and we get to go with the flow.”

UCLA led 24-10 at one point but made just three field goals in the second quarter, and Colorado used nine second-chance points to cut the deficit to 31-23 by halftime.

“I didn’t like how we turned the ball over in the second quarter,” Close said. “But I really liked our response. After the first two in the third, we only turned it over six times the rest of the half. That’s much more characteristic of who we are. I do like the 18 assists. We haven’t had that in a while, and I’m confident we’re going to take care of the ball better.”

UCLA indeed opened the third quarter with back-to-back turnovers, allowing Colorado to get within six points. But an Onyenwere layup helped the Bruins find their energy, and a 9-0 run gave UCLA its biggest lead at 42-27 with 5:32 left in the third. Dean took a key charge early in that spurt and Charisma Osborne hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession. Dean made a layup for the 15-point lead.

Whenever Colorado attempted to get back in the game, Brown was there with a response. In the final minute of the third quarter, she rebounded an Osborne miss and scored, then she scored the opening basket of the fourth quarter to keep the margin at 12.

“My teammates have always just given me that confidence in practice,” Brown said. “I just wanted to come out here and be the spark that my teammates needed wherever they needed me to be.”

Mya Hollingshed cut the margin to seven with a 3-pointer with 5:43 left, but Dean answered with another layup to make it 56-47. Neither team scored for more than two minutes, then the Bruins rattled off four in a row to go up 11 with 1:15 left and they closed it out from there.

Hollingshed had a game-high 22 points for Colorado, which has lost 11 straight against the Bruins.

UP NEXT

UCLA closes its regular season on Sunday at 1 p.m. when it faces Utah. Before the game, the Bruins will recognize their two seniors, Dean and Ally Rosenblum.

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No. 10 UCLA women outlast No. 6 Stanford to stay in Pac-12 race

STANFORD — UCLA coach Cori Close issued a challenge to her team before a showdown at Stanford and Michaela Onyenwere delivered.

Onyenwere had 29 points and 10 rebounds and the 10th-ranked Bruins pulled away from the No. 6 Cardinal late for a 79-69 victory Friday night that moved UCLA into a tie for second place in the Pac-12 with Stanford.

“Coach Cori came in with fire before the game,” Onyenwere said. “That really spoke to me and the team. She challenged our toughness and aggressiveness and we knew that in order to this game we had to be aggressive and we had to be tough.”

Onyenwere got a steal and a layup late in the third quarter to give UCLA (20-2 overall, 9-2 Pac-12) the lead for good and then added seven points early in the fourth to help the Bruins take control.

Chantel Horvat scored career-high 14 points off the bench for UCLA, Japreece Dean added 11 and the Bruins held Stanford to 36.6 percent shooting.

“We really wanted to take away their first and second option,” said Close, who earned her 100th Pac-12 victory. “We know where they want to enter the ball. We wanted them to think about our pressure the entire game so they didn’t get in a rhythm.”

Kiana Williams scored 25 points but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Cardinal (20-3, 9-2) from having its 16-game home winning streak snapped. Lacie Hull added 12 and Ashten Prechtel had 10 points and 12 rebounds.

“We weren’t able to hit shots,” Coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We weren’t moving the ball the way we needed to. It was disappointing.”

UCLA scored 10 straight points starting late in the first quarter and eventually built a nine-point lead as Stanford missed 15 of 17 shots. But Hull hit a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to cut the Bruins led to 35-30.

Williams sparked the Cardinal in an impressive stretch in the third quarter with an outlet pass to Prechtel for a layup, a pull-up jumper and then a 3-pointer to put Stanford ahead 45-44.

But the Bruins then capitalized on five turnovers in the final four minutes of the quarter to take a 50-45 lead heading into the fourth when Horvat hit a layup just before the buzzer.

The big road win against a top-10 team keeps the Bruins within striking distance of No. 3 Oregon in the Pac-12 standings. UCLA hosts the Ducks next Friday night in what could be a showdown for first place in the conference.

With star freshman Haley Jones sidelined by a knee injury, Stanford didn’t have enough scoring options to hang with the Bruins. Williams did her best with three 3-pointers in the first quarter and that spurt in the third. But she went 1 for 10 with two turnovers down the stretch.

“She got really tired,” VanDerveer said. “We need some more help for her so I can rest her more so she can be fresher at the end of the game.”

UP NEXT

UCLA plays at Cal on Sunday at 2 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

Bruins going back to Westwood with another W on the record. 👏@monyenwere_ and @ChantelHorvat were a power duo in No. 10 @UCLAWBB’s 79-69 win over No. 6 Stanford. pic.twitter.com/eBGlo6qYAM

— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) February 8, 2020

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Onyenwere scores 31 as UCLA women outlast Washington in OT

LOS ANGELES — For the second straight week, the UCLA women’s basketball team finished a game exhausted after playing more than a 40-minute regulation game.

But unlike last week, the Bruins walked away with the win.

Junior forward Michaela Onyenwere scored a career-high 31 points and helped the 10th-ranked Bruins erase a 15-point first-half deficit on their way to an 85-80 victory over Washington on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion.

Natalie Chou added 18 points, just one short of her career-high, off the bench for the Bruins (17-1 overall, 6-1 Pac-12), who used an 8-1 run to seize control in overtime and got back on track after losing their first game of the season to USC last week. UCLA was the only unbeaten team in the country before its double-OT loss to the Trojans.

Friday’s game was tied 70-all after regulation and the Bruins sprinted to a 78-71 lead in the extra period when Charisma Obsborne sandwiched a pair of baskets around one from Chantel Horvat and one from Onyenwere. Washington got within 78-75 on a Quay Miller layup with 57 seconds left, but the game became a free-throw shooting contest from there and UCLA was able to maintain a two-possession lead the rest of the way to close it out.

“I’m exhausted, I need a nap,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said following the game. “We needed every last person and every ounce of energy in that building today.”

Onyenwere, who missed the loss to USC because of a sprained ankle, shot 13 for 26 from the field and 5 for 7 from the free-throw line. Onyenwere and Chou were held to six points each in the first half before combining for 37 of the Bruins’ 60 points the rest of the night.

“It was pretty rough to see my team go down and knowing I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew we would bounce back because we’re a bunch of fighters,” Onyenwere said of watching the loss to USC from the bench with a boot on her ankle. “I knew we would respond regardless if I was in or not. I was really happy to be back on the court with my teammates.”

Chou came up big down the stretch. She made a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left from the baseline to give UCLA a 69-68 lead and added a steal with 11 seconds remaining. Onyenwere made one of two free-throw attempts for a 70-68 lead, but Melgoza, fouled with four seconds left, made both free throws, tying the score and forcing overtime.

“Natalie Chou is the player of the game,” Close said. “Of course, what gets a lot of the attention is the clutch (3-pointers). She was the only one would could hit a 3 today, but for me, I’m so proud of her talk and how she’s grown as a defender and how she’s been a selfless teammate this entire time, even when she wished she had a different role. That takes tremendous courage, selflessness and character.”

Chou was the only Bruin to make a 3-point shot, and UCLA had 28 attempts. Chou was 4 for 9 from behind the arc.

“My teammates have been so encouraging throughout the whole season throughout my (highs) and dips,” Chou said. “My teammates have given me so much confidence and it means the world to me. They always tell me to keep shooting.”

Amber Melgoza had 14 points and Missy Peterson added 13 for Washington (10-8, 2-5), which played well but squandered its 15-point, second-quarter lead.

To start the third quarter, Onyenwere made a point to be aggressive getting back in the lane and finding her shots there. She got UCLA off to a good start with a three-point play that seemed to energize the Bruins, pulling them within 37-30.

Onyenwere put UCLA ahead at 49-47 near the end of the third quarter. She scored off a nice bounce pass from Japreece Dean, who drove from the perimeter to the baseline then fed the trailing Onyenwere in the middle of the key. Onyenwere made it 51-47 with one second left in the third when she got a rebound off her own miss and scored on a putback to cap an 8-0 UCLA run.

The Bruins made 12 of 22 shots and were a much-improved 54.5 percent from the field in that span.

“Before Coach Cori and the staff came in (at halftime), we were just talking and nobody seemed frazzled or panicked,” Onyenewere said. “Everybody was poised and just saying, ‘It’s okay. Shots will fall. But defense has to be our anchor.’ … It was (more) like, we’re not doing anything we need to do on defense.”

UCLA missed 17 of 22 shots (22.7 percent) and trailed 22-11 after the first quarter, looking rusty after a week off. The Huskies went on an 8-0 run at the end of the first and built an 11-point lead.

Near the end of the first quarter, Close called a timeout and immediately afterward shrugged her shoulders.

“I think part of it is our refocusing when we don’t hit immediate shots,” Close said. “We missed a couple layups and then we let the air get taken out of us. … We always tell our team, ‘You’re never going to focus completely for 40 minutes.’ The key is to be aware when you’ve lost your focus and learn how to refocus the quickest.”

Dean (14 points) struggled from the field, shooting 1 for 8 in the first half, and missing all five of her 3-point attempts. UCLA was 2 for 17 from behind the arc in the first half.

Washington led 35-25 at halftime and often had UCLA frazzled with its zone and pressure, but it couldn’t do much about Onyenwere. No one knew if Onyenwere would play – though she said she figured she would be ready to go a couple of days ago – but Huskies coach Jody Wynn said they prepared all week as if she would play.

“We turned the ball over too much and allowed too many second-chance opportunities. To me, that’s the story of the game,” said Wynn, who saw her team commit 24 turnovers. “… At the end of the day, Onyenwere was just too much for us. She just jumped over us, got offensive rebounds or putbacks. I thought we did a great job on their guards. I thought we rattled them in the halfcourt and played well under pressure, all except the second half and third quarter, especially. We made some careless errors. Credit their defense.”

After winning their first 16 games and setting a program record for victories to start a season, the Bruins have shown there’s plenty of room for improvement.

UCLA concludes this week’s homestand against Washington State (9-10, 2-5) on Sunday at noon at Pauley Pavilion.

News services contributed to this story.

We went to overtime and came out on top! 85-80 victory over Washington to move to 17-1.

Check out the highlights from tonight’s win!#GoBruins | #Pac12WBB pic.twitter.com/Ap3XYYBZVo

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) January 25, 2020

Here’s the long ball from @NatalieChou1!

💻https://t.co/YWqZMLz6zg
🔊https://t.co/FORzK0ZVaQ
🏀#GoBruins | #Pac12WBB pic.twitter.com/gwdSPnwpXC

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) January 25, 2020

END 3Q – UCLA 51, WASH 7

Here’s the slick feed from @japreece24 to @monyenwere that gave the Bruins the lead. Michaela added another bucket before time expired and UCLA leads by four!

💻https://t.co/YWqZMLz6zg
🔊https://t.co/FORzK0ZVaQ
🏀#GoBruins | #Pac12WBB pic.twitter.com/hIGJSLvg9E

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) January 25, 2020

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