SALT LAKE CITY — Coming off its first-ever road sweep as a member of the Pac-12 Conference last weekend, the Utah women's basketball team had momentum but also a big challenge in front of it as the 14th-ranked UCLA Bruins came to town for a Friday night tilt at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes certainly stuck with the Bruins in a game that was close throughout and trailed by just one at 67-66 with 4:49 remaining before faltering down the stretch and losing, 81-74.
“I hate losing,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “I’m bummed we lost. You have to give UCLA credit. You can tell they have a roster full of seniors, and they just made plays and we didn’t.”
More specifically, the Bruins gave themselves second chances over and over again with offensive rebounds, especially with the game close in the fourth quarter. In all, UCLA won the offensive rebounding battle 20-7, leaving Roberts with her hands on her head in frustration when the Bruins grabbed another one with just over a minute remaining, allowing them to drain more clock and seal the deal.
“We got crushed on the O-boards, and that’s why they won,” Roberts said. “It’s easy for me in a suit and heels to say, ‘Go get the rebound’ from the sideline. I know how hard it is out there. UCLA is so aggressive and so big and athletic that it’s easier said than done.”
Although the Bruins have two players who Roberts feels could be in contention for National Player of the Year in guard Jordin Canada and forward Monique Billings, it was freshman Michaela Onyenwere who stood out for UCLA on Friday, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end.
Canada also had 20 points to go along with eight assists and iced the game with six free throws over the final 33 seconds. For the night, the Bruins made 23 of 27 free throws, while Utah connected on just 15 of 24 from the charity stripe.
“I think we’ll probably kick ourselves over that, because we’re a good free-throw shooting team,” Roberts said.
Despite the two clear shortcomings from the Utes, they found themselves down by just four at the half, 42-38, and later charged back from a seven-point deficit in the third quarter to take their first lead at 53-51 with 3:06 remaining in the frame.
Utah took the lead again at 57-56 on a 3-pointer from freshman guard Tori Williams with 9:29 to go in the game, but UCLA’s Kennedy Burke answered with a 3-pointer and the Utes couldn’t catch up from there despite keeping within striking distance until inside a minute to play.
“I think we were just really calm and collected,” said Utah forward Megan Huff about how the Utes hung close with the Bruins. “Throughout the whole thing, everyone was just encouraging each other, just ‘Next play, next play ’ I think that’s the biggest thing, just answering back. I think a few plays we weren’t able to answer back because of the offensive rebounds.”
Huff led a balanced Ute scoring attack with 17 points, while Daneesha Provo and Emily Potter each had 16 and Williams added 10.
Although proud of her team, Roberts wants to be able to break through with a victory against one of the Pac-12’s elite teams.
“I hesitate to use the term moral victory,” Roberts said. “I think we’re past that as a program. I really do ... we need to start winning them. We need to win one.”
Utah has a quick turnaround, as it will play USC Sunday afternoon at the Huntsman Center.
Tipoff is scheduled for noon.