LOS ANGELES — Despite just one loss and a victory over then-No. 3 Baylor, UCLA is still finding its way.
Monique Billings had 14 points and 12 rebounds for her third double-double of the season, and the seventh-ranked Bruins defeated UC Riverside 68-48 on Tuesday night.
“I don’t think we’re playing anything close to our potential,” UCLA coach Cori Close said.
Kelli Hayes added 12 points and Jordin Canada 10 points for the Bruins (6-1), who have won three in a row since their lone loss to top-ranked UConn last week.
“We didn’t focus on all the little things we know we can do,” Hayes said.
Michelle Curry was the only player in double figures with 15 points for the Highlanders (1-6), who committed a season-worst 25 turnovers.
Six different players scored as the Bruins built a 66-40 lead in the fourth, capped by a 3-pointer from Kayla Owens.
UCR ended the game on an 8-2 run, allowing the Highlanders to play to a 14-all tie in the fourth.
That kept up UCR’s pattern of slow starts and stronger finishes. The Highlanders got outscored 20-17 in the third. They never got closer than 15 on their first basket of the quarter.
“We have to continue to play hard and it starts in practice,” Curry said. “Hopefully it will start to show in the game.”
Ahead by 17 points at halftime, the Bruins stretched their lead to 45-24 in the third when five different players scored.
The Bruins rolled to a 34-17 lead in the first half, although their sloppy play repeatedly had Close yelling, “Execution!” UCLA had nine turnovers — five in the first quarter — and missed some easy layups. In the first quarter, the Bruins missed 12 of 17 shots from the field.
“It’s concentration, it’s awareness,” Close said. “We’re just late on all those awareness plays.”
The Highlanders also struggled offensively. They missed their first six shots of the game and shot 29 percent in the half.
Five freshmen combined to score 23 points for the Bruins, led by Owens who came off the bench and hit two 3-pointers. They also committed eight of the team’s 18 turnovers. “I’m trying to encourage them and be a voice in their ear,” said Billings, a senior. “Our freshmen are doing better than I did my freshman year. I’m trying to tell them to keep their heads up and make it fun.”
HE SAID IT
“I used to work for a guy who said, ‘We lost by one call, the one call I made to schedule the game.'” — Highlanders coach John Margaritis.
The Highlanders lost to their third Pac-12 opponent and by the largest margin. They were beaten 64-46 by Southern California and then 53-43 by then-No. 14 Stanford. “We cannot fall apart because we’re losing,” Margaritis said. “We need to use every game as a learning experience and come conference time, hopefully we’ll be better.”
UC Riverside: Although the Highlanders have lost six of seven games, they’ve challenged themselves by playing two ranked opponents early in the season as part of a road-heavy schedule. They held Stanford to 53 points, the second-fewest allowed against a Top 25 opponent in program history, while losing by 10. Just three of their first 13 games are at home.
UCLA: The Bruins went 6-1 while playing five of their first seven games at home. They’ll be tested in December, playing six of seven on the road, including an East Coast swing before heading to the Bay Area to open Pac-12 play against Stanford and California, both of which are ranked.
UC Riverside: Plays UNLV in the ASU Classic at Tempe, Arizona, on Saturday.
UCLA: Hosts UC Santa Barbara on Sunday in its last home game until Jan. 5.