By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
UCLA had this one circled on its schedule. Ever since an 84-70 loss at the hands of Baylor in Waco last season, the Bruins were salivating at a second chance.
On Saturday, the Bruins did not waste their opportunity. Senior forward Monique Billings scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds, senior guard Jordin Canada added 20 points and dished out 13 assists and junior guard Kennedy Burke scored 19 as No. 8 UCLA beat No. 3 Baylor 82-68 at Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA head coach Cori Close said that the Bruins were able to execute and get the result the expected to get at the end of the day.
“We were excited, but we expected to win,” Close said. “We talked about having an `I will’ mentality. There was a real calm, we did what we set out to do.”
The Bruins defense had large role to play in getting UCLA a signature top 10 on its resume. UCLA held Baylor to 40 percent shooting, including just two of nine from beyond the arc.
UCLA also pressured the young Baylor guards and wings, forcing 17 turnovers and converting those miscues into 21 points. The Bruins, although undersized compared to the Lady Bears, held a distinct advantage at the rim, swatting eight Baylor shots and collecting eight steals as well.
Baylor was missing two key pieces in its head coach Kim Mulkey, who did not travel due to a family tragedy and sophomore forward Lauren Cox. According to a press release, Cox developed a complication of her Diabetes Mellitus called diabetic ketoacidosis, where acids buildup in the blood, and was briefly hospitalized, but has since been released and is in good condition.
Associate head coach Bill Brock filled in for Mulkey and said that despite the disappointing result, basketball was not the top priority this week at Baylor.
“Basketball is really secondary to everything’s that been going on in our program this week,” Brock said.
With the absence of Cox and Mulkey on the bench, the Lady Bears depended on their All-American center Kalani Brown for nearly everything. Brown was 13 of 17 from the field, knocking down seven of eight from the free throw line and finished with 33 points, while grabbing eight rebounds.
As great as Brown was in the paint, she did not get enough help from her teammates. Freshman guard Alexis Morris chipped in with 11 points, but was just four of 12 from the floor and senior forward Dekeiya Cohen scored nine points and grabbed 14 rebounds before eventually fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Although unable to sustain it in the end, Baylor got off to a good start and that start began with Brown. Brown scored eight points on four of four shooting as the Bears raced out to an early 12-4 lead.
But the Bruins then used a 12-0 run to charge ahead 16-12, as Canada put UCLA in front with a layup and then found teammate freshman guard Chantel Horvat for a three-pointer, her only points of the game and forcing a Baylor timeout.
UCLA continued on the attack, pushing its lead to 20-14 after one quarter.
Cohen prompted a mini-Baylor spurt late in the second quarter with Brown on the bench with two fouls. Cohen converted back-to-back layups to cut the deficit to 33-29.
Canada provided the answer for the Bruins, driving the length of the court and finishing with contact, completing the three-point play and putting Baylor up 36-29 at halftime.
UCLA came out on a 6-0 run to push the advantage to 13 at 42-29 on a basket from redshirt junior forward Lajahna Drummer.
Baylor refused to panic, turning to Brown in the post, who converted back-to-back layups over the smaller Bruins cut the deficit to nine at 42-33.
Canada took the offensive burden on herself, delivering a mini 5-0 run, including hitting her second three-pointer of the game to push the lead to 47-33.
Canada said her team’s experience helped them to stay within themselves every time Baylor made a run.
“It was about staying composed,” Canada said. “We didn’t get frazzled. We just did us and that was important when they came out and punched first.”
Brown continued to keep Baylor in the game, scoring five more quick ones down the stretch, in between the Bears’ first three-point field goal of the game, from sophomore guard Juicy Landrum.
Just as Baylor was back within striking distance at 55-47, Canada put the Bruins back in front by 11 with her third three of the game.
Trailing by 11 heading into the fourth quarter, Baylor used a 9-2 run to open the final period to cut the lead to 62-58.
UCLA then found its rhythm once again, going on an 11-0 run, getting a huge three-point basket from Burke and consecutive layups, including a three-point play by Billings pushed the lead back to 73-58.
UCLA kept its foot on the gas pedal, building its largest lead of the game at 82-65 after two free throws from Billings before the Bears got a layup from Brown and a free throw from Morris to end it.
Despite not having Cox, Baylor still controlled the glass, outrebounding the Bruins 45-31 and outscoring them 36-32 in the paint, but the big spurts from UCLA and clutch plays from Canada and billings were too much to overcome.
Backcourt production was also an issue for Baylor, as starting guards, senior Kristy Wallace and sophomore Natalie Chou combined for just two points while going one of nine from the floor with six turnovers.
Brown said the Lady Bears will need to use this experience as they grow and get better.
“We needed this game, a tough game, for our freshmen,” Brown said. “We’re going to fix some things.”
Baylor (3-1) will participate in the Junkanoo Jam in Bimini, Bahamas. The Lady Bears will first face Missouri State at 2 p.m. Thursday before taking on the winner of Penn and Georgia Tech on Friday. Both games will be broadcasted on FloHoops.