Jan. 27, 2013
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Once again, No. 19 UCLA needed a strong finish in order to avoid losing to an unranked Pac-12 opponent at home.
And once again, the Bruins got it.
Nirra Fields scored 13 points, Thea Lemberger hit a go-ahead 3-pointer midway through the second half, and UCLA held on to beat Arizona State 54-50 on Sunday.
"It wasn't a very pretty game to watch for sure, but I'm proud of our mentality," Bruins coach Cori Close said. "But sometimes as a coach it's easier to deal with learning how to take care of the ball than it is to develop strength mentally."
UCLA (15-4, 6-2) took its first lead with 11:31 remaining in the first half and never trailed again. But the Sun Devils (11-9, 3-5) kept it close throughout and tied the game at 38 with 7:59 remaining. Lemberger then hit her 3-pointer to give UCLA the lead back and they held on tightly from there.
"Two-thirds of our team has never been thru a Pac-12 season and they don't have any returning starters to show them the way," ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "We've lost a lot of games like this to top teams, so it's truly just a matter of experience and learning how to pull these out."
The Bruins took a 23-21 lead into halftime despite shooting only 33.3 percent and turning it over 15 times in the first half.
In three of their last four home games _ all against unranked conference opponents _ the Bruins led by four points or less at halftime. In their other game, they trailed by one at the break. Each time, they were able to win.
UCLA shot only 41.3 percent from the field and turned it over 23 times, but was able to overcome its offensive struggles using the strong defense and rebounding.
The Bruins held the Sun Devils to 36 percent shooting from the field and outrebounded them 35-26. They also forced ASU into 19 turnovers of their own.
"I was proud that we showed some strength mentally to rely on our defense and our rebounding to hold us even thought we were struggling on the offensive end," Close said." We said we were going to build this program on defense and rebounding, and that's what we had to rely on to win today. That's the kind of mental toughness we need to be able to have."
Janae Fulcher was the only Sun Devil to hit double figures, finishing with 13 points.
"Just lack of execution (on offense)," Turner Thorne said. "Our point guards did not do a good job of getting us into our offense and just getting us flow. I don't know really why."
The Bruins' lead was down to three points or fewer multiple times down the stretch, including 48-45 with 1:45 remaining. Fields then nailed a key 3-pointer to give the Bruins the breathing room they needed.
UCLA has won the last seven meetings between the two teams dating back to February 2009.
The victory completed a sweep of the Arizona schools for the Bruins, a week after they suffered losses to No. 7 California and No. 6 Stanford.
"Our goal for this week was to come in and go strong and bounce back," said UCLA senior Jasmine Dixon, who battled through a back injury to score 12 points. "Every team in the Pac-12 is pretty good, so we just had to buckle down and grind."
UCLA will look to extend their five-game home winning streak when they host No. 20 Colorado and Utah next weekend.