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In a tale of two halves, UCLA women defeat crosstown rival USC

In a tale of two halves, UCLA women defeat crosstown rival USC
UCLA's Michaela Onyenwere, right, pulls up for a jump shot as USC's Ja’Tavia Tapley defends. (Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Motivation was not a problem for the UCLA women’s basketball team early in its Pac-12 Conference opener. Execution was, but the Bruins imposed their will and skill in the second half to beat crosstown rival USC, 72-65, Sunday afternoon at Galen Center.

UCLA faced an 11-point deficit at intermission, but took control in the third quarter, outscoring the Women of Troy 31-10 on the way to extending its season-high winning streak to five games. The Bruins (8-5) defeated USC for the fifth straight time and eighth time in the last nine meetings.

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“We didn’t play our best [first] half, but it was still only a four-possession game and before the coaches came in to talk to us, we decided collectively this is not the way it’s going to go,” said sophomore forward Michaela Onyenwere, who paced the Bruins with 27 points and 12 rebounds. “We just had to get back to what we had practiced the last two days. Once we started executing our game plan we chipped away at their lead.”

Onyenwere made a three-pointer to spark an 8-0 run and made a spinning hook shot in the lane to give the Bruins a 46-44 lead with 3:13 left in the third quarter. LaJahna Drummer hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to increase USC’s deficit to 10 points heading into the fourth quarter.

“I’m so deep into the game… I didn’t notice how fast their lead went down,” said Drummer, who finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds. “I’m just trying to box out, rebound and help my team win. Michaela is a beast — we try to feed her as much as we can. It’s fun playing with her.”

USC's Minyon Moore (3) dribbles while UCLA's Lauryn Miller (33), Japreece Dean (24) and Chantel Horvat (right) surround her.
USC's Minyon Moore (3) dribbles while UCLA's Lauryn Miller (33), Japreece Dean (24) and Chantel Horvat (right) surround her. (Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Kennedy Burke had 11 points and six assists and fellow guards Japreece Dean and Ahlana Smith each had seven points for the Bruins, who shot 43.3 percent from the field. UCLA was the Pac-12 runner-up last year, winning 27 games before falling in the Elite Eight to eventual NCAA Division I finalist Mississippi State.

“The first half was perfect — we were getting good shots, we were playing good defense,” USC coach Mark Trakh said. “The third quarter was rough. The same thing happened at Texas A&M. We lacked cohesion at certain points of the game. We missed 10 free throws, we missed layups and made bad decisions that cost us, but on the positive side they are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and we held them to 12. The players need to trust the process. This is a learning experience.”

The Women of Troy were led by former Salesian High stars Minyon and Mariya Moore, who accounted for nearly half of their team’s points. Minyon, a junior guard, had 18 points and nine assists while her sister, a senior who started at forward, scored 14 points. Guards Aliyah Mazyck and Shalexxus Aaron added seven apiece for USC (10-2), which led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter.

“The coaches preach it constantly and this game taught us that it’s those extra couple of minutes that make the difference,” Mariya Moore said. “We played well for most of the game, the effort was there, but we have to do it for 40 minutes.”

USC holds a slight edge in the all-time series, but hasn’t enjoyed bragging rights since a 71-68 triumph on Jan. 10, 2-16 at Galen Center. The Women of Troy went 20-11 last season, finished seventh in conference play and lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Both teams travel to the Bay Area for conference games Friday night — USC at Stanford and UCLA at Cal.

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