Angela Dugalic hit a three-pointer and stretched her arms out even wider than the smile that enveloped her face as she looked toward Cori Close on the sideline. The UCLA coach could only flash a sheepish grin back at her dynamic 6-foot-4 forward.
After struggling with a preseason knee injury, Dugalic helped the No. 7-seeded Bruins to 73-60 victory over rival USC in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday in Las Vegas. UCLA (14-11) fended off a USC comeback behind IImar’I Thomas’ 18 points, and Dugalic’s 13 points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes. Her spark off the bench featured her first two three-pointers of the season, including one in the fourth quarter that left Close shaking her head as UCLA went up by 10.
“I’m very hard on Angela and it’s because I believe in her so much,” Close said, noting that Dugalic has practiced only three times since Oct. 30 because of her knee injury. “She’s having to learn on the fly.”
The transfer from Oregon will face her former team in the second round as the Bruins play the Ducks at 6 p.m. Thursday.
UCLA, which is at risk of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015, won its sixth straight game over its crosstown rival while ending the first year of the Lindsey Gottlieb era.
When the teams met in back-to-back games in January, both were struggling with injuries. The Bruins had as many players dressed in sweatpants and T-shirts on the bench as they had in uniforms. The Trojans (12-16) were without second-leading scorer Jordan Sanders, who was out with a knee injury.
Sanders made the most of her long-awaited rivalry debut Wednesday with 18 points. She scored nine in the third quarter, helping the No. 10 seed Trojans (12-16) erase a seven-point halftime deficit and head into the fourth quarter tied.
That’s when Jaelynn Penn took over for the Bruins. The transfer from Indiana missed the regular-season matchups with USC because of a broken hand, but scored nine of her 11 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed seven rebounds.
While Penn caught fire, the Trojans stalled. They missed their first 14 shots in the fourth quarter, not scoring from the field until Sanders made a three-pointer with 1:43 remaining. UCLA’s lead was still 13.
Rayah Marshall, who had just five points in the two regular-season games against the Bruins, had 17 points and 10 rebounds. It was her 12th consecutive double-digit scoring effort since being held scoreless against UCLA on Jan. 23 and fourth double-double in the past five games.
The Pac-12 all-freshman team honoree figures to be a central figure in Gottlieb’s rebuild at USC, which hasn’t gone to the NCAA tournament since 2014.
Marshall, a McDonald’s All-American from Lynwood High, about 13 miles from USC’s campus, is determined to end that drought during her career.
“What I would say [about] what I can take going into next season is this fire feeling that I’m feeling right now,” said Marshall. “I actually really, really, really hate losing so next time around, I’m going to carry this same feeling and take it out on whoever is on the other side.”