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UCLA defeats Colorado to move into second place in Pac-12 women’s race

Japreece Dean celebrates after making a shot during a game earlier this season.
UCLA’s Japreece Dean, celebrating after making a shot during a game earlier this season, had 12 points and seven assists in a win Friday night over Colorado.
(Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

As UCLA players watched the game film of Sunday’s upset loss at Washington, they counted each and every mental error. They tallied the points every mistake cost them. The total, coach Cori Close assured, was a lot more than the final six-point deficit.

The process was painful but necessary.

“It hurt our hearts,” Close said, “but it also gave us hope because those are things we could really control.”

Motivated by the disappointing loss, the No. 9 Bruins bounced back with a wire-to-wire 62-52 victory over Colorado at Pauley Pavilion on Friday night. The win pushed UCLA into second place in the Pac-12 Conference standings after No. 4 Stanford’s overtime loss to Arizona on Friday.

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Alissa Pili scored 29 points and Endyia Rogers contributed 18 as the USC women’s basketball team defeated Utah 69-66 at Galen Center.

The Bruins (24-4, 13-4 Pac-12) own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cardinal and could clinch the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament with a win Sunday against Utah. It would be the team’s best finish in the Pac-12 standings in Close’s nine-year tenure.

But for a program that has made four consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, Pac-12 accolades aren’t of the highest importance.

“Honestly, I don’t think it means much to me,” senior Japreece Dean said. “I’m really not too focused on where we are.”

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Junior Michaela Onyenwere led UCLA with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Dean had 12 points and seven assists. Freshman Camryn Brown had a career-high eight points as the Bruins outscored the Buffaloes 21-8 in bench points.

UCLA, which had been hampered by slow starts in recent games, went into halftime with a lead for the first time since Feb. 9, then pushed an eight-point advantage to 15 with a 9-0 run in the third quarter. The Buffaloes (16-12, 5-12) didn’t get closer than seven points in the second half despite a game-high 22 points from guard Mya Hollingshed.

“We wanted to have more fun playing this game,” Close said. “We haven’t been having as much fun, because we know deep down we haven’t been playing as well as we needed to.”

While Close said the team’s 40-minute focus was improved, Friday’s game still featured spurts of a team that doesn’t always live up to its top-10 ranking. The Bruins made just three field goals in the third quarter. They turned the ball over 16 times through three quarters.

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But after the same Colorado team cut a 25-point UCLA lead to two in Boulder earlier this season, the Bruins stayed steady Friday to secure the season sweep. They committed just one turnover in the fourth quarter; had 18 assists, tied for their third most in a Pac-12 game this year; and forced 19 turnovers.

Two weeks ago, the Bruins could have grabbed a share of first place. Instead, they fell behind 22-8 in the first quarter against Oregon and never recovered. Close admitted that the team might have gotten caught up in the Pac-12 race in recent weeks. Watching the conference standings became a distraction that shifted UCLA’s focus away from itself.

The Bruins brought their own game back into focus Friday.

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“It doesn’t matter the reason, there are no excuses,” Close said. “If you know what to do, you gotta be counted on to do your job.”


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