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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL : Leslie and Gessig Carry USC Past UCLA, 73-60

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

USC built an 18-point first-half lead, then made 13 of 14 free throws down the stretch to defeat UCLA, 73-60, Friday night before 3,079 at Pauley Pavilion.

USC’s 6-foot-5 Lisa Leslie 5) and 6-3 Kim Gessig dominated play in the first half, propelling USC to a 34-16 halftime lead and a 17-point advantage midway through the second half.

Near the end, while UCLA had to foul to try to catch up, USC’s Joni Easterly sank seven of eight free throws and finished with 16 points.

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The Trojans’ record improved to 12-4 overall and 6-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference. The Bruins are 8-8 and 3-4.

Leslie had another dominating game, going over 1,500 points in career scoring with a game-high 19 points on nine-of-13 shooting. Gessig, playing with an injured shoulder, had 12 points and seven rebounds.

UCLA’s best player, Natalie Williams, had an off night shooting--making only seven of 20 shots--but had 17 rebounds.

“Defensively, we were trying to not allow Natalie to have a career game against us,” USC Coach Marianne Stanley said. “She’s an awesome player, but I thought we did a pretty good job on her. They shot only 24% for the first half, and they’re a good shooting team.”

For the game, USC shot 47% and UCLA 31%.

“We’re concentrating with a laser-beam focus on one opponent at a time, and tonight it was UCLA,” said Stanley after USC posted its largest margin of victory over UCLA since 1988.

UCLA Coach Billie Moore said the Bruins fell behind early because Williams had no help.

“We got into a mind-set where we were asking Natalie to carry the whole offense, and no one stepped up to take some of burden,” Moore said.

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Both teams are idle until home games Feb. 5, when the Trojans will play Washington State and the Bruins will face Washington.

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