After a second consecutive overtime game, Cori Close sat down as she let out a long sigh.
“I’m exhausted,” the UCLA coach said. “I need a nap.”
Seven days after losing in double overtime to USC, No. 10 UCLA had to fight to extra time against another scrappy, bottom-feeding Pac-12 Conference program Friday, surviving with an 85-80 victory over Washington at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins (17-1, 6-1 Pac-12) gave up an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter and clawed back from a five-point deficit with 2:52 left in regulation thanks to a career-high 31 points and nine rebounds from Michaela Onyenwere, who returned from a sprained ankle that kept her out of UCLA’s loss to USC.
“We haven’t been able to execute [our game plan] for 40 minutes and stay focused on the things we need to take away,” said Close, who said the responsibility for solving the issue falls on her. “We’re going to keep fighting, and I fully expect us to grow in that area.”
With UCLA down by 10 points at halftime after shooting 22.9% from the field, Onyenwere said Close challenged the team to play up to its potential. The junior from Aurora, Colo., responded with 25 points in the second half and overtime, including 13 in the third quarter, which UCLA finished on a 19-5 run.
Guard Natalie Chou had 18 points and all four of UCLA’s made three-pointers, including a corner three that put the Bruins ahead by one with 44 seconds left in regulation. Although the Baylor transfer was mostly known for her three-point prowess, she also flexed her muscle as a defender with three steals.
“[Assistant] coach Tony [Newman] has been spending a lot of time with Natalie on: ‘You’re so much more than a shooter. You’re so much more than a shooter,’ ” Close said. “ ‘You’re a big guard who can post up, can rebound, can get deflections.’ And I think that’s what you’ve seen is her confidence growing in those other areas.”
With the Bruins up one after her big shot, Chou appeared to seal the game with a steal with 13 seconds left in regulation. But one missed free throw from Onyenwere left the door cracked for Washington (10-8, 2-5).
Guard Amber Melgoza, who finished with 14 points Friday, pushed the Huskies through to overtime after drawing a foul and making the tying free throws.
The Huskies, who have just five Pac-12 regular-season wins in Jody Wynn’s three-year tenure, made nine of 23 three-point shots to challenge the Bruins. Defending the three-point line was the No. 1 priority on UCLA’s scouting report, Onyenwere said.
That box went unchecked, but UCLA survived by forcing 24 turnovers and taking 23 more shots. The sheer number of attempts helped the Bruins get past their poor shooting, especially from three-point range. Chou was four of nine on long-range shots, but the rest of the Bruins were 0 for 19.
The team that made 43.9% of its three-pointers in the first five games of Pac-12 play is shooting just only 20% from distance in the last two.