LOS ANGELES — UCLA coach Cori Close didn’t feel the need to light into her 14th-ranked team at halftime after they committed 16 turnovers in a sloppy first half and found themselves trailing to an unranked opponent at home.
Instead, she imparted a simple message.
“Take care of the basketball,” she said. “Brilliant, isn’t it? We just needed to slow down a second on the catch. It was as much the person receiving the basketball. We just needed to focus in, take our time, take pride in every pass and catch, and value every possession.”
The Bruins responded by cutting their turnovers in half in the second half and rallied for an 85-68 victory over Washington, their sixth in a row.
Jasmine Dixon tied her season high with 13 points and also pulled down 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the season to lead a well-rounded effort for UCLA (13-2, 4-0 Pac-12) in which five players scored in double figures. Atonye Nyingifa had 17 points for the second straight game, Markel Walker scored 11 and Alyssia Brewer and Thea Lemberger each scored 10.
The Bruins have won 10 of the past 12 meetings between the teams and 11 straight at home.
“Usually when we start games and we know it’s a great team we want to start with (a high level) of intensity (on defense) and force those turnovers,” Washington guard Jazmine Davis said. “But then toward the second half we just lost that intensity. I lost it, everybody lost it in my opinion, and it was too late to regain it back. They just played off of that and killed us with it.”
Davis scored a game-high 19 points to lead the Huskies (10-5, 2-2), and Talia Walton added 18 points. Washington hung with UCLA for much of the game. The back-and-forth affair featured 11 lead changes in the game’s first 30 minutes, and the Huskies held a 59-58 lead with 9:05 remaining.
UCLA freshman Kari Korver then hit a long 3-pointer in front of her own bench to give her team the lead back and start a 14-4 run.
“I’m proud that we have confidence in the second half and I’m proud that we make plays in the most pressurized situations because that speaks to our mentality as a championship-level program,” Close said. “At the same time when you go play two top-10 teams you can’t wait, so there has to be a little more urgency and we have to be a better starting team.”
The Huskies pulled within 72-67 with 4:35 remaining and had a chance to move within one. But Walton and Mercedes Wetmore each missed a pair of free throws, and UCLA responded by closing the game on a 13-1 run.
“For the first 30 minutes I liked the way we competed, we just didn’t finish it,” Washington coach Kevin McGuff said. “UCLA made plays at the end to win it and that’s to their credit. They’re big and physical and they have a lot of depth and I think that kind of wore on us and you could see that down the stretch. We have to be able to handle the situations better. Even if we are a bit tired we’ve played enough close games that we should be better down the stretch.”
That final run included the Bruins making all of their final six free throws. They hit 17 of their 18 free throws in the second half and 21 of 25 in the game.
“That’s been a weakness of ours,” Close said. “We’ve actually spent a lot of time on free-throw routines and how many we make after practice. It’s been a very big area of emphasis for us and so it’s really neat to see that paying off because they have worked very hard at it.”
The Bruins, who had a major size advantage, dominated the inside in large part due to Dixon. They outrebounded the Huskies 50-26 and outscored them in the paint 42-26.
“We focused on boxing out and capitalized on all the aerial rebounds,” Dixon said. “We knew they were small and we were bigger so we just figured every rebound was ours.”
UCLA is tied for first place in the Pac-12 and will travel to No. 7 California and No. 5 Stanford next weekend. Washington will try and snap its first two-game losing skid of the season when it takes on Washington State on Tuesday.