LOS ANGELES (AP)With its toughest test of the season approaching, No. 10 UCLA is right where it wants to be defensively, it is just the offense that will need a bit of refining.
Michaela Onyenwere scored 23 points and Chrisma Osborne added 16 as No. 10 UCLA recovered from a slow start to earn a 66-50 victory over Washington State on Sunday.
The Bruins (18-1, 7-1 Pac-12) won despite shooting just 37% from the field and they did not make a 3-pointer in 15 attempts. UCLA improved to 11-0 at home and have won consecutive games after a double-overtime defeat at Southern California on Jan. 17.
“Well, 0-for-15 wasn’t really what I was going for but we have sort have been up and down,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said. “I think we were No. 1 in the conference in 3-point shooting going into the USC game and we have hit a little bit of a skid that way. But I think that is why you don’t put your anchor there.”
Defense is UCLA’s identity and the Bruins held the Cougars to 35.5% from the field and forced 19 Washington State turnovers. UCLA had a 19-8 advantage in points off turnovers.
Borislava Hristova scored 14 points for Washington State (9-11, 2-6), which saw its losing streak extend to four games. The Cougars held the lead through much of the first quarter before UCLA picked up the pace with a pressure defense.
The Bruins were just 1 of 7 from the field to start the game but never trailed by more than three. The game was tied 14-14 after one quarter.
“When you play UCLA, they have a lot of weapons and you have to try to take away something that is right in their wheelhouse,” Washington State head coach Kamie Ethridge said. “Obviously that was rebounding them and covering them a little bit and I thought we really battled well in that area.”
UCLA took command in the second quarter, holding the Cougars to 3 of 15 (20 percent) from the field and just six points to take a 32-20 lead into halftime. They were never threatened from there.
Onyenwere was 8 of 18 from the field, but missed both of her 3-point attempts, while recording her ninth game of at least 20 points this season and second consecutive.
“I think I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” said Onyenwere, who had her 54th career double-digit scoring performance. “My teammates did a good job of finding me in open space and I was able to get some deep (positioning) on their post payers.”
Japreece Dean scored 10 points for UCLA, which took control by outscoring the Cougars 22-13 in the third quarter.
UCLA held a slim 38-32 advantage in points in the paint and an even tighter 42-41 rebounding advantage.
“I would have taken those stats any day of the week, no question,” Ethridge said. “And if we can do that again and replicate that against a lot of teams we will be in a lot of ballgames.”
Consecutive victories over Washington and Washington State give UCLA some momentum as its schedule is about to intensify. The Bruins visit No. 16 Arizona State and No. 18 Arizona next weekend, before visiting No. 6 Stanford on Feb. 7. Then come home games against No. 4 Oregon and No. 7 Oregon State the weekend of Feb 14-17.
“I think (Close) said it that this will force us to step up to have this in front of us,” Onyenwere said. “I’m excited to compete with this team and go through this tough stretch. We know it will be a battle and that’s why we came to UCLA, to compete in this conference.”
News of the death of former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash in nearby Calabasas started to circulate while both teams were warning up for the noon local-time start. Both coaches said they did not inform their players until after the game.
“There are no words that will make it any better,” Close said. “I am deeply saddened and it affected these (players). My response as a leader is to make sure I cherish every day and relish every opportunity because the next one isn’t promised.”
Said Ethridge: “I think everybody feels it differently. I have a lot of basketballers in there so I think they feel that really hard. I can’t imagine. It’s just devastating. Everybody was interested in seeing his second act and he already had it going. It’s devastating news.”
Washington State: The Cougars fell to 0-8 against ranked teams this season and have lost 30 consecutive games overall against teams in the top 25. Their last victory against a ranked team was in 2017 at home against then-No. 9 UCLA.
UCLA: The Bruins have never lost a home game Washington State, improving to 32-0 against the Cougars on Sunday, while also improving to 56-8 in the all-time series. … Close improved to 190-100 in nine seasons at UCLA, with 10 regular-season games remaining on the Bruins’ regular-season schedule. … The Bruins are two victories away from their fifth consecutive 20-win season.
Washington State: Home against Cal on Friday.
UCLA: At No. 18 Arizona on Friday.