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College Basketball

UCSB Women Can’t Keep Pace With Jordin Canada, No. 9 UCLA

UCLA coach and former Gaucho star Cori Close says Gauchos have pieces to do well in Big West

UCSB’s Makala Roper dribbles while being pressured by UCLA’s Nicole Kornet during Wednesday’s game at the Thunderdome. Click to view larger
UCSB’s Makala Roper dribbles while being pressured by UCLA’s Nicole Kornet during Wednesday’s game at the Thunderdome. (Javier Delarosa / Noozhawk photo)

UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close paid UCSB a nice compliment after the No. 9-ranked Bruins defeated her alma mater, 71-52, at the Thunderdome on Wednesday night.

The Gauchos battled and kept the game close for three quarters before All-American Jordin Canada and UCLA’s athletic post players wore them down.

“They remind of my senior year,” said Close of coach Bonnie Henrickson’s Gauchos (2-7). “We started out 0-6 and then we went on to win the Big West Tournament. They’re getting better. I watched film and I’m like, ‘They’re good. They have pieces.’ I really believe in what Bonnie and her staff are doing. I believe in the players that are here. I think they can do well in the Big West. They just got to stay focused on the things like the reasons they came here, and they’re going to be a really good team.”

The game didn't start out too well for UCSB. The Gauchos struggled to hang on to the ball and fell behind 20-7 in the first quarter.

UCLA’s 6-foot-4 Ashley Hearn blocks a driving lay-up attempt by UCSB’s Onome Jemerigbe. Click to view larger
UCLA’s 6-foot-4 Ashley Hearn blocks a driving lay-up attempt by UCSB’s Onome Jemerigbe.  (Javier Delarosa / Noozhawk photo)

But they showed heart and fought back. They moved the ball better, played tougher on defense and tied the score at 22-all at the 3:30 mark of the second quarter. Sarah Porter got the team rolling with three 3-pointers and a tough layup. Onome Jemerigbe drove in for a layup to tie the score, and suddenly it was game on.

“I thought they out-toughed us, they out-talked us, they outhustled us. I really give Bonnie credit for getting those kids to fight,” said Close.

“We got down 13, but I’m proud we answered,” said Henrickson. “We say that all the time: You got to answer a run. We didn’t want it to be 13. How we cut into it: we moved the ball. We had 15 straight stops in a row. We were able to manufacture some offense and get a couple of things in transition."

Then Canada took over the game.

The game marked the return of Cori Close to the Thunderdome. Close played for UCSB and was an assistant coach under Mark French. Click to view larger
The game marked the return of Cori Close to the Thunderdome. Close played for UCSB and was an assistant coach under Mark French. (Javier Delarosa / Noozhawk photo)

The lightning-quick guard finished with 30 points. She scored 10 of UCLA’s 11 points over the last 2:53 to give the Bruins a 33-26 lead at halftime.

“The kid is good, she is very, very talented. She is very special,” Henrickson said. “I think she looked around and said, ‘Nobody else is scoring and what we’re doing right now isn’t working, let me just go’. We got to have somebody step up go, ‘OK, we got stop the bleeding’ because she came out of the locker room and did the same thing.”

Canada nailed two jump shots to get UCLA (8-1) going in the third quarter. Kennedy Burke followed with a layup to extend the lead to 39-26. Canada also hit two free throws, buried a 3-pointer in the quarter and fed a nice pass to Monique Billings for a basket. She was 11 of 21 from the floor, made 7 of 8 from the free-throw line, had four assists and five rebounds.

“Jordan Canada is an All-American,” Close said. “She has the mind, she has the athleticism, she has skill and she’s competitive. She was frustrated and she knows how to take the game over.”

Even with Canada going off, UCSB managed to hang around. Makala Roper fed Natalia Bruening inside and Jemerigbe hit a pair of free throws to pull the Gauchos within six, 46-40, with 1:17 left in the third.

Cori Close gives Gaucho booster John Reid a hug after the game. Reid, who use to organize game trips for a group of UCSB women’s basketball fans, is stricken with ALS. Click to view larger
Cori Close gives Gaucho booster John Reid a hug after the game. Reid, who use to organize game trips for a group of UCSB women’s basketball fans, is stricken with ALS. (Javier Delarosa / Noozhawk photo)

But Canada hit another jumper and assisted on a jumper by Billings to make it 50-40 at the end of the quarter.

Billings, who scored 17 points, got her time to shine at the start of the fourth quarter. She hit a jumper, fed Burke for a lay-in, picked off a pass that led to a Canada basket and blocked a shot during a 10-2 run that made it a 60-42 game with 5:54 to go.

At halftime, John Reid was given a tribute by retired coach Mark French. Click to view larger
At halftime, John Reid was given a tribute by retired coach Mark French. (Javier Delarosa / Noozhawk photo)

Porter was the only Gaucho player to score in double figures with 11 points, Roper had nine points and Jemergibe tallied eight. Freshman Aliceah Hernandez scored five off the bench.

It was an emotional night for Close, who was back on the court at the Thunderdome for the first time since 2004, when she was an assistant for then-head coach Mark French.

“It was very humbling, looking around and seeing so many faces,” she said of her return. “I would not be where I am without several people that were in the building tonight. I grew so much as a young woman, as a basketball player as well as a coach under the people that were here. Obviously, it starts with Mark French. I just wouldn’t be here without him. But there were so many people here that believed in me before I believed in me, so I’m extremely grateful for the way this town and this university prepared me.”

Among the people she met up with again was a psychology professor that gave her the only D grade she received as a student. “He said how are you and I said, ‘Great, I don’t have to take your psychology class,’” she cracked.

After the game, she walked across the court to hug and kiss John Reid, one of the main organizers of the fan group that followed the UCSB women’s basketball team during the Mark French years. Reid suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and is in a wheelchair. At halftime, Coach French read a tribute to Reid.

Close said she felt very blessed to come from UCSB. “I spent 13 of some of the most unbelievable years here. It’s a lot of history. I’m just really grateful.”

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