LOS ANGELES -- The UCLA women’s basketball team is making history.
A crosstown rivalry game against USC and the opening game of the Pac-12 Conference seemed like a side note compared to what the Bruins are doing this season.
Japreece Dean and Michaela Onyenwere each scored 21 points to lead No. 10 UCLA to an 83-59 win over USC on Sunday.
UCLA (12-0, 1-0 Pac-12) kept its undefeated season going and started Pac-12 Conference with a victory. The win tied UCLA’s best start in program history, which the 1980-81 team did with Denise Curry, the program’s all-time leading scorers. It also extended the best start to a season under coach Cori Close.
“I think it’s great,” Dean said. “Being a senior and being with this group of girls. Every day in the huddle I just tell people to bring joy and have fun. I think that’s what we’re doing. It’s fun to be here right now and have this record.”
Many UCLA alumni were honored before the game. Former point guard Jordin Canada, who plays for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, was in the house, too.
“It says a lot about the people that came before us,” Close said of the history-making start. “I think it’s all about the people who have contributed and sacrificed and come before us and believed in our vision. It takes a village to build a program.”
And talented players and depth, which UCLA had on full display.
Onyenwere had eight rebounds. Dean, who had eight assists, scored 14 of her 21 points in the third quarter in which UCLA outscored USC 26-16. They were an impactful duo that USC couldn’t stop.
Freshman forward Alissa Pili had a career-high 28 points in the first two quarters for USC (5-4, 0-1), and she was about the only USC player who found success.
“Starting conference is a whole different ballgame from what we’ve played. That was our awakening,” Pili said. “I don’t think we were ready for the speed of the game. We kind of caught up a little bit and then it slipped away. This was definitely an awakening for all of our freshmen to play faster and harder.”
Dean had four points and four assists in the first quarter for UCLA, which built a 24-10 lead over USC.
USC railed early in the third quarter and with three consecutive baskets cut UCLA’s lead to seven points at 38-31. Pili was feeding Angel Jackson the ball down low during that stretch, and Jackson was scoring. The Bruins answered with an 11-0 run, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers by Dean, to build a 49-31 lead it would never relinquish. The Bruins made five 3-pointers in the third quarter.
Dean had a highlight reel play when she flung a pass from the 3-point line down low to Onyenwere, who laid it in. The two combined on nearly the exact same play early in the second quarter, too, with the Trojans unable to break up that pass through the lane. They combined for 42 points.
USC struggled to score and get good shots, shooting just 25.8% from the field in the first half. The Trojans also had 10 turnovers in that span, and just one steal. USC finished with 18 turnovers.
Charisma Osborne had a season-high 10 rebounds for UCLA.
CONFERENCE OF CONFIDENCE
USC coach Mark Trakh is well aware the conference won’t get any easier. Four Pac-12 teams are ranked in the top 10, and five in the top 25. The Trojans host No. 18 Arizona on Friday. Trakh turned to Pili in the postgame news conference and said, with a laugh: “You ready for 17 more of these?”
Last season, USC upset UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. There appears to be a great respect and admiration for each other and Close briefly chatted with USC players before the game.
“I know we’re supposed to hate each other, but I really respect Mark and the job he’s doing there,” Close said. “... This is one of the most special rivalries in all of college sports.”
USC: It’s imperative for the Trojans to play much better at home this week against Arizona and Arizona State or they’ll dig themselves a difficult hole to climb out of in conference.
UCLA: The Bruins played well in all phases, getting off to a good start in conference and remaining undefeated. It was everything the Bruins needed out of the first conference game.
USC: Hosts No. 18 Arizona on Friday.
UCLA: Hosts Arizona State on Friday.
More AP women's basketball: https://apnews.com/Womenscollegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
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