For the first 15 minutes, this was quite a contest.
If it wasn't Hazel Ramirez flicking teardrops in the lane, Loyola Marymount had a variety of gunners draining three-pointers to give the UCLA women's basketball team a legitimate challenge.
But the result, once the Bruins kicked into high gear on defense? An 84-43 throttling of the Lions Sunday evening at Gersten Pavillion.
The offensive output might be eye-catching, but the Bruins seized control of this game with their play on the other end of the floor. By game's end, LMU shot just 25% from the floor with UCLA applying a defensive tenacity that led to a 24-6 margin in points off turnovers. The higlights from the game:
The Turning Point
When Ramirez knocked down a three-pointer at the 5:00 mark of the first half to give the Lions the 28-25 lead, it looked as if UCLA was in for a grind. But then the Bruins held their opponents scoreless during that last five-minute stretch and came up ahead 34-28 heading into halftime. Safe to say, it was the squeeze that had the Lions roaring no longer.
"We tried going to the zone defense because we knew we were only going to have eight players, but we had to go back to player-to-player defense in order to pursue the shooters," coach Cori Close said. "The bottom line is in the first half, we weren't playing with enough passion, but late in the first half and in the second half, we locked down and played posession defense the way we need to."
Set the Ton'-ye
At this point, it's almost easy to just glance over Atonye's Nyingifa's stat line in the box score. But once again, Nyingifa came through big for her team, posting a career-high 28 points on a blistering 10-of-12 shooting as well as 14 rebounds. When the perimeter game wasn't working for the Bruins, Nyingifa made sure there was still a steady scoring output, scoring on a variety of pump fakes, drives, and dish-and-pops from the paint.
"For the years that I've been at UCLA, the post coaches have always emphasized footwork and pump fakes, especially since I'm undersized," Nyingifa said. "It's vital for me to have the fundamentals down because I'm stepping into a new role, and my teammates depend on me."
A Balanced Team Effort
Given an active roster of just eight players coming into the game, UCLA had five different players scoring in double figures tonight. Nyingifa and Rebekah Gardner (11 points) provided the usual one-two punches, but it was three other players stepping up on the scoring duties, with Mariah Williams (13) driving to the hoop, Moriah Faulk (11) popping from behind the arc, and Thea Lemberger (15) driving and popping.
"We focused a lot on getting ball reversals and moving the ball this week during practice," Lemberger said. "We worked hard on letting everyone get touches and attacking the basket, so with that we were able to get open looks and knock them down."
Given the limited playing time, Madeline Brooks might not get too many open looks at the basket, but when she does, she evidently does it in style. The freshman walk-on scored the first basket of her collegiate career with 3:40 left in the game, a nothing-but-net splash from the right wing that drew an extended cheer from her teammates, as well as a standing ovation from a sizeable UCLA contingent on hand for the game. Safe to say, it was the proverbial icing on the cake for the Bruins.
"I'm really glad that the girls are trusting me on the court, since I've only been on the team for a couple of weeks," Brooks said. "I'm so blessed for the opportunity that Coach gave me by letting me on the team, so any chance I get, I'm going to make the most of it."
News & Notes
A few other items to note: Kacy Swain returned to action after missing the last two games with a concussion, but the Bruins suffered another hit when Rhema Gardner went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury at the 9:44 mark of the second half. But it was what Close called a "minor injury," and the younger Gardner figures to have ample time to recover. The Bruins don't play again until December 13 when they hit the road to take on former coach Nikki Caldwell and the LSU Tigers.