When the UCLA women’s basketball team stormed out to an 11-0 lead over Washington State, it looked as if the rout were on.
Not so fast.
It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t easy, but the Bruins (11-6, 4-2 Pac-10) toughed out a close game in Pullman, Wash., on Thursday night. The 59-56 UCLA win was a tale of two halves, with the Bruins dominating the opening 20 minutes before the Cougars (5-13, 0-7) made a ferocious comeback in the second half.
“The team hung tough,” UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said. “It’s good to be on the road and come out victorious at the end. We’re going to take any W, but there are a lot of mistakes we are still making.”
UCLA raced out with the early advantage, with the defense shutting down the Washington State offense. In the meantime, the Bruins used the physical presence of their bigs to impose their will in the paint. The main beneficiary of this strategy was sophomore guard Jasmine Dixon, who paced the Bruins with a career-high 23 points on the night.
“Jasmine has been really good for us, she’s been go-to inside,” Caldwell said. “She scored big baskets for us down the stretch. We have to have more scoring from (Markel) Walker, Christina (Nzekwe) and Mo (Alexander), but I was very proud of our team’s effort to get (Dixon) the ball.”
Washington State, with just three baskets in the first half, hung in the game with their continual trips to the foul line. Nevertheless, the Bruins held a 32-17 lead going into the break.
In the second frame, the Cougars roared out of the locker room on a 9-0 run, cutting the Bruin advantage down to just six.
“We got a little bit lackadaisical,” Caldwell said. “WSU did a good job of pressing us. We acted like we have never seen a press before.”
A frustrated UCLA team did itself no favors, turning the ball over at inopportune times and picking up several early fouls. With the visitors providing extra opportunities, the home side slowly pulled its way back into the game.
“The score shouldn’t have been as close as it was,” Dixon said. “We took ourselves out of the game, and we had our own breakdowns.”
But when UCLA suddenly found itself down in the closing minutes, the team’s late-game experience kicked in. With the Cougars leading 53-52, Dixon put up a layup to reclaim the lead. On the following Washington State possession, the Cougars’ Katie Madison was called for an offensive foul. UCLA would take advantage. Darxia Morris sunk a fadeaway jumper to put her team up three. A pair of free throws by Doreena Campbell sealed the victory.
“We have to make sure we aren’t putting ourselves in that situation we did in the second half,” Caldwell said. “I think it’s important to win close. To be able to respond and make the plays we needed to make, I’m pleased with that.”