The Bruins came into tonight's game 10-0 facing a 9-4 LSU squad that was on a 5 game winning streak. UCLA had moved up to #8 in the AP poll while staying #9 in the Coaches poll, meaning briefly, at least in the AP poll, UCLA was rated higher than Stanford, something that hasn't happened in a long, long time. Sadly, that will not last past this week.
When the game started, Doreena Campbell was not in the lineup, and in fact did not play until the second half, so perhaps she was held out for a disciplinary reason, though that is just speculation. In her replacement, Mariah Williams saw her minutes increase (especially with Thea Lemberger still out with an injury), mainly playing large amounts of the first half. The game started off poorly for the Bruins, spotting LSU a 7-0 lead 3 minutes into a very low scoring half. The Bruins tied it up at 11 and a 17-4 run gave the Bruins the lead at 17-11 with 7 minutes left in the first half. The Bruins took their largest lead of the game 20-13 on a 3-pointer by Darxia Morris, but offensively got sloppy and missed multiple easy scoring opportunities to go into halftime up 25-21, when it felt like they should be up double digits.
In the second half, I hate to use this as an excuse, but the referees decided to make it a 8-5 game against the Bruins. Time and again the Bruins were called for questionable fouls and were not getting the calls on the other end, and this is easily one most upset games i've seen from Coach Nikki Caldwell who was visibly displeased with the refs, and was not afraid to let them know it. The teams traded leads and tied the game up multiple times early one. The game was tied at 33 with 15 minutes left, and the Bruins found themselves down 4 at the 12:22 mark when Markel Walker went out with her 4th foul and with that being the 8th team foul on the Bruins to only 2 on LSU, the tigers were in the bonus for the last 12+ minutes of the game.
With Walker out and any foul sending LSU to the line, they pushed their lead to 6 at 43-37. UCLA closed to 43-42 with just under 10 minutes left. At the 7 minute mark, Nikki decided to put Markel back in to spark the offense, but less than a minute and a half later she was called for her 5th foul on a very suspect call which really seemed to anger Nikki. LSU's lead was pushed back up to 49-44 with 4:55 remaining, and was still up 5 at 53-48 with 3:28 remaining, but LSU would be held scoreless for over 3 minutes as UCLA made a final push. A basket by Darxia Moris cut the lead to 3, and after the bruins got the ball back, Doreena Campbell was fouled and made 1 of 2 freethrows to cut the lead to 53-51 with 1:29 remaining. Following another missed shot by the tigers, Christina Nzekwe made a jumper for her only basket of the game to tie the game with 39 seconds left. LSU missed a shot on the other end but got the offensive rebound and a short jumper gave LSU a 55-53 lead with 15 seconds left. UCLA had 3 final chances, as Rebekah Gardner missed a shot, but Christina Nzekwe got the rebound but missed the put back, and following another rebound, UCLA called timeout with 2 seconds left, but Darxia Morris' long jumper was off, and the Bruins lost 55-53.
Defensively, it's hard to fault the Bruins. Despite the full court press not appearing as effective as it usually is, the Bruins forced 21 turnovers and held LSU to just 36% shooting for the game and 27% from behind the arc. UCLA actually took care of the ball better than usual with only 13 turnovers, and shot a decent 43% from the field. So why did UCLA lose tonight? 2 or 3 major reasons stick out. The major one is freethrows. UCLA was not getting the benefit of the calls from the refs tonight, but even those they did get, UCLA went 7-13 from the line (57%), while LSU went 18-22, 13-16 of which came in the 2nd half. It's hard not to feel like the refs and freethrow disparity cost the Bruins the game, especially with UCLA's defense still playing strongly. That takes us to the second surprise, UCLA got outrebounded 36-27, and with only 8 offensive rebounds, UCLA lost out on many second chance points that they are used to getting. Finally, Jasmine Dixon really had a horrible night with only 5 points on 2-9 shooting, and it seems like all of those misses were on layups or close to the rim. It was a horrible off night for her, and in the past that hasn't cost the Bruins, but tonight it did.
The Bruins had only 2 players score in double figures tonight. Darxia Morris had 16 points on the night, while Markel Walker had 11 points. Atonye Nyingifa had a strong game with 9 points and 8 rebounds. Playing only one half, Doreena Campbell finished with 8 points and hit several clutch shots down the end, but surprisingly missed 2 late freethrows when she is our most reliable shooter from the line.
One thing that was nice to see was a bigger crowd tonight. UCLA blew away their season average of 908 for a home game with over 2000 fans, and the energy was great, especially late in the game as UCLA fought down to the final possession. It's unfortunate that UCLA's first loss comes in front of their largest crowd, but hopefully that won't scare fans away, especially with the next home game coming up being next Saturday, January 8th against U$C and the despicable "coach" Cooper, so keep that date in mind to head out to Pauley. Despite the disappointing loss, UCLA enters conference season 10-1, still the best record in the Pac-10. UCLA travels up to Washington this weekend to open conference play against two of the weaker teams in conference, playing Washington Friday, and then Washington St. Sunday.