No. 13 UCLA’s offense proves too much to overcome for No. 21 Cal women’s basketball

Maya Valluru/File

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Low-scoring games aren’t always the most entertaining from the standpoint of many fans, but a close game will undoubtedly catch their attention. Those in attendance at Pauley Pavilion on Friday evening got a taste of both, as No. 13 UCLA (14-4, 5-2)  and No. 21 Cal (13-5, 4-3) endured a classic defensive struggle — one that became exciting late in the game and ultimately fell in the Bruins’ favor, 60-52.

UCLA survived a second-half Cal rally to take the series’ sweep this season and improve to 5-2 in conference play, holding the visiting Bears to a season-low 17 points in the first half.

In a game which featured both teams shooting 36 percent from the field, it was rebounding that separated UCLA from Cal as the Bruins out-rebounded the Bears 44 to 33.

This game marked the third time that the Bears have been outrebounded on the season.

Nearly half of the Bruins’ boards came from senior forward Monique Billings, who outdueled junior Kristine Anigwe for the second time this season.

Feeding off of the home crowd and displaying a veteran touch in the lane, Billings led UCLA in both points (14) and rebounds (18) for her ninth double-double of the season before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Of those 18 rebounds, eight came of the offensive variety — both season-highs.

After a rough teamwide first half, Anigwe turned it on in the second half to the tune of 8 straight points to begin the second half, sparking Cal’s early comeback attempt.

Just as the Bruins’ defense had suffocated the Bears’ offense to 33 percent shooting in the first half, Cal responded with a strong defensive third quarter, limiting UCLA to just 8 points and cutting the 12-point halftime deficit to just 4 points entering the fourth quarter.

With freshman guard Kianna Smith and senior guard Mikayla Cowling each shooting a dismal 2 for 11 from the field, it was sophomore guard Jaelyn Brown who provided a much-needed offensive boost to the rallying Bears. Brown matched her career high in threes with a trio of long-range shots, highlighted by a 4-point play in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

Had it not been for a sluggish shooting evening for Smith and Cowling, it’s likely that Cal would have come out on top in this one.

After committing 24 turnovers the last time out against the Bruins at home Dec. 31, the Bears turned the ball over just 13 times in this one. Having scored just 6 more points than last month’s disaster says it all about Cal’s overall shooting night.

With just 4 points separating the teams at the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter, it was UCLA junior guard Kennedy Burke who made big plays down the stretch, including a layup and critical offensive rebound to minimize the Bears’ margin for error to zero. That’s when senior guard Jordin Canada slammed the door for good with a late three, pushing the lead to 9 points and keeping Cal winless against ranked teams.

Despite limiting their giveaways and collecting 11 steals compared to UCLA’s seven, the Bears’ shooting simply wasn’t good enough to beat a lot of teams, let alone a ranked opponent on the road. For better or worse, Cal faces a quick turnaround with a Sunday afternoon matchup with USC, leaving them seeking a split of the weekend.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].