LOS ANGELES — UCLA coach Cori Close used a microphone to thank fans for attending Sunday’s game against UC Santa Barbara, which is part of her customary postgame routine. This time, she ended her speech by saying “happy holidays.”
It’s not that Close is really into the holiday spirit 22 days before Christmas. It’s that UCLA doesn’t play at home again until Jan. 5, so this was her final opportunity. The No. 7 Bruins gave fans an early Christmas present with a 74-44 victory over UC Santa Barbara.
Monique Billings had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Jordin Canada added 14 points in the victory. Canada also wowed with six steals, six rebounds and five assists.
“It’s hard. I feel like you’re building momentum with your fan base, and then you’re gone for over a month,” Close said. “I think that’s really difficult. We don’t want people to come to our games and just be entertained. We want people to come to our games and feel connected to the experience and the journey. We’re not going to be connected to them for over a month. I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’
“We need them here for the start of Pac-12 play when we have the Oregon schools here first.”
UCLA (7-1) won its fourth consecutive game since a home loss to top-ranked Connecticut.
The Bruins controlled the game from start to finish and used a stifling defense to keep UC Santa Barbara out of the paint and force outside shots. They also forced UC Santa Barbara into 23 turnovers. UCLA scored 30 points off those miscues.
“The game plan was to … defend the 3-point line and in transition and I think we did that,” Canada said. “Us being aggressive, us punching first, taking initiative to get them out of rhythm and I think we did that throughout the game.”
UC Santa Barbara (1-7) lost its seventh consecutive game. Gauchos leading scorer Drew Edelman, who missed the previous game against Fresno State with an injury, was back and scored 12 points. Sarah Porter added 11 points for the Gauchos.
Taking care of the basketball has been a problem for UC Santa Barbara.
“It’s pressure on the ball, pressure in passing lanes, pressure in transition,” Gauchos coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “They used their length. They can disrupt you on the ball and disrupt you in passing lanes … They have strength and speed.”
Last season, the Gauchos made it to the Big West Tournament championship game, where they lost to Long Beach State by one point. This season has been a struggle. Porter believes there can be some lessons from the UCLA loss.
“Just look at it as an experience and an opportunity to get better against a respectable team, Porter said.
All 10 players who got in the game scored for UCLA. Bruins freshman Michaela Onyenwere continues impress. She scored on a putback basket as time expired to give UCLA a 32-18 halftime lead and finished with 12 points.
UCLA freshman Kayla Owens appeared to injure her right knee during an awkward collision trying to go around a screen in the third quarter. She is scheduled to undergo tests on Monday. She had to be helped off the court and didn’t return to the game but was back on the bench with her knee wrapped in ice.
UC Santa Barbara must search for answers to try build off last season’s success since it has nine returners back. The Gauchos have time as they don’t start Big West Conference play until Jan. 4.
UCLA is feeling better about itself over the last four games since suffering a tough home loss to Connecticut. The Bruins will have to take that moxie on the road, where it faces Oklahoma State, Seton Hall and Fordham before starting Pac-12 play at Stanford and Cal, both top-25 teams.
UC Santa Barbara: Hosts Loyola Marymount on Friday night.
UCLA: At Oklahoma State on Friday night.