Japreece Dean covered her face as she fell to the floor. The senior, seated with her knees pulled to her chest, could finally breathe a sigh of relief as the horn sounded.
Dean’s game-high 23 points helped No. 10 UCLA survive a 68-66 nail-biter against Arizona State on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion as the Bruins (13-0, 2-0 Pac-12 Conference) set a school record for wins to start a season. The historic victory set up a matchup of unbeatens with No. 18 Arizona (13-0, 2-0) visiting at noon Sunday.
The Sun Devils (10-4, 0-2) were the third-best offensive rebounding team in the nation entering Friday’s game, and it showed in the final 15 seconds when Arizona State grabbed three offensive rebounds and had three shots to either tie or win the game.
UCLA coach Cori Close, watching from the sideline, described the sight of the ball bouncing wildly between a mass of outstretched arms as “panic.”
“They person-handled us in the last four minutes,” Close said. “They absolutely wanted rebounds more than we did.”
The Bruins had a 10-rebound edge in the first half, but Arizona State roared back with a 27-9 advantage in the second half despite not having a single player with more than seven rebounds. The Sun Devils grabbed 14 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.
UCLA didn’t score for the final 1 minute 59 seconds after Dean rattled in a three-pointer, her fifth of the game, to break the game’s seventh tie. With Arizona State controlling the boards, the Bruins got only one more shot attempt the rest of the game after Dean’s clutch shot. The Sun Devils had seven during that time.
“[Assistant] coach Tasha [Brown] said it best in the locker room: We lost track of who we were and we lost track of how we’re built,” Close said. “And that’s the truth. And in the Pac-12 schedule, we gotta learn quickly.”
After eclipsing the 1980-81 team for the best start in school history, UCLA, which survived despite just nine points from leading scorer Michaela Onyenwere, turned its attention the Wildcats, who are also off to their best start in program history. Arizona extended its winning streak dating to last season to 19 after a 65-57 win over USC on Friday.
Leading scorer Aari McDonald scored 24 points in Arizona’s win Friday.
When the postgame conversation turned to the Wildcats, Dean, who was seated next to Charisma Osborne at the news conference, imitated putting a crown on the freshman’s head at the mention of McDonald’s name. Osborne, Dean explained, was the best defender on the team and earned an imaginary crown early in the season. After two strong defensive games against Georgia and Indiana, Dean took the crown for herself. But with McDonald coming up, Osborne, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds Friday, needed the honor back.
“I thought she played good tonight, so I gave it back to her so she can be ready to guard McDonald,” Dean said with a laugh.
Close, who didn’t know of the inside joke, smiled.
“There’s going to need to be a lot of crowns on Sunday,” the coach said.