Despite valiant effort, women’s basketball team falls to UCLA

The Trojans may have lost to UCLA 74-59 just a few days prior, but on Sunday, the team jumped at the chance for redemption against their crosstown foes. With junior forward Kristen Simon back from absence and senior guard Courtney Jaco on fire from 3-point range, the Trojans looked like a vastly different team. Although they took No. 13 UCLA to the brink, the Women of Troy fell just short in a heartbreaking 71-67 loss.

“What a great basketball game,” said head coach Cynthia Cooper- Dyke. “We played with a lot of heart all game long.”

During the first quarter, the game began to resemble the Bruins’ lopsided victory on Wednesday. UCLA rode a 9-0 run into a 21-10 lead, and initially USC had no answer for standout guards Jordin Canada and Kennedy Burke. But when the Trojans’ rematch started to look bleak, they refused to fade away.  Sophomore Aliyah Mazyck’s eight first quarter points kept them afloat, and then consecutive threes, one by Jaco and the other a buzzer beater off the bank for junior Sadie Edwards, put the team in striking distance.

If the first quarter was exciting, the second was explosive, with each team trading blows like two boxers in a prize fight. The Bruins struck first, once again embarking on a 9-0 run that extended the lead to 11 points, their largest of the game. Then, Jaco, who recorded a career high of 27 points against UCLA earlier this week, burst back into the spotlight. She made two straight threes that were part of a 10-0 run, bringing the Trojans to within one point.

But Jaco wasn’t finished. With just 20 seconds left in the half, she nailed a spectacular three while drawing a foul. Upon making the free throw, her four-point play gave the Trojans a 38-36 lead, their first advantage since the early first quarter.

“You just get up for these games,” said Jaco, who finished with 18 points. “It’s rivalry week and this is my last one as a Trojan so it meant a lot to me personally and I just wanted to give it everything I had.”

Much like the frantic first half, neither team was able to secure a solid lead in the final two quarters.  When the third quarter alone featured three ties and three lead changes, it became clear that fans at the Pauley Pavilion would be treated to a photo finish.

The Bruins emerged from the carnage of the third with a 55-53 lead and continued gaining momentum in the fourth thanks to the scoring efforts of freshman guard Jordin Canada, who finished with 23. Her former high school teammate, Jaco, kept the game close with a deeply contested three as the shot clock expired. It was her fifth 3-pointer in the game, and her twelfth in two games against UCLA this year.

“Hats off to Courtney [Jaco], I thought she played excellent in both games,” Canada said. “I’m just proud of her and how far she’s come. It was really great playing against her and I think she went out on a great note. We tried to stop her down the stretch and she still found a way to score.”

After Jaco’s three at the beginning of the fourth, the two teams remained neck and neck. On two occasions, the returning Simon tied the game up, with her pounding inside play being the Trojan’s most effective offense down the stretch. UCLA’s freshman guard Kennedy Burke, who finished with 23, scored five straight to extend their lead at 67-62. The Trojans were in need of a big play with just under two minutes left and this time Mazyck delivered, nailing a corner three. Down by three with 21 seconds left, graduate transfer center Ivana Jakubcova sunk a tough layup to make the game 68-67.

With 15 seconds left, the Trojans quickly fouled Burke, sending her to the line. Burke made the first but then granted USC the ultimate opportunity, with her second bouncing off the rim. However, no Trojan came up with the rebound; instead it was Canada, UCLA’s unquestioned leader, who played all 40 minutes of the contest. The offensive rebound effectively ended the game, capping an instant classic.

“It doesn’t matter what your record is in this rivalry,” said UCLA head coach Cori Close. “You just might as well throw that thing out and let’s go compete.”
The Women of Troy return to action on Friday at home against Arizona. They now drop to 1-7 in conference play and 10-9 overall.