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UCLA rides over the Red Storm in season opener

UCLA dominates a tough St. John's team with aggressive ball movement and successful defensive tactics to go 1-0 into the 2015-2016 season. Outstanding performances by Monique Billings and Jordin Canada and an overall size domination from the Bruins kept the Red Storm contained.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles, CA -- UCLA kicked off their season with force and determination but struggled at the beginning of the first quarter to get their shots to drop. However, with great hustle and a long pass down court to Monique Billings, the Bruins got into their groove and were able to pull together an early lead.

Kacy Swain, the 6'3 senior, had a hot hand, giving the Bruins a one point lead with five minutes left in the first period. Overall, the Bruins looked very well conditioned, playing with great force, but unfortunately, sloppy passes and incomplete shots hindered the Bruins from taking an aggressive lead.

St. John's also struggled with poor shots, outsized by the Bruins, especially with the guards. A big steal by Jordin Canada propelled the Bruins to an 8-5 lead with four minutes left in the game, followed by another perfect 3, sending the Bruins into an aggressive full-court press defense.

Although the Red Storm was no match for a solid Bruin's zone defense, UCLA struggled getting defensive boards at the end of the first. A quick 3 by Aaliyah Lewis tied up the game at 12-12 for St. John's in the final minute of the first period.

UCLA came into the second with much more fluidity, setting up a beautiful play resulting in a three by Kennedy Burke. A Sportscenter worthy, all-ball, block by Kennedy Burke, brought St. John's to the floor, giving the Bruins a better stride defensively.

St. John's was confident and concise setting up plays offensively, but could not get their shots to drop, falling 21-12 with 7 minutes left in the half. The Bruins continued to be successful on defense, gaining key steals and maintaining the full court pressure, breaking away with a lead of 27-16 with 4:37 left in the quarter.

The Red Storm were able to set up some efficient and aggressive plays with the leadership of Aaliyah Lewis to cut the lead in the final minute of the half, but UCLA refused to submit, maintaining a 36-24 lead going into the half.

With Kacy Swain and Monique dominating in the paint, the Bruins were able to gain 10-second chance points in the first half with an undersized, St. John's only having 4.

Kari Korver continued her first half success with a quick three in the first minute of the game. St. John's struggled in the first few minutes of the half, with sloppy turnovers and weak shots, falling 46-28 in the first three minutes, forcing them to take a time out.

Although down by 19, the Red Storm continued to have great composure and focus, breaking the Bruin's pressure but struggling to find the open shot. The Red Storm's Aliyyah Handford, came down hard in the final minute of the 3rd, resulting in an injury having to be taken off the court. Strong on-court communication and vision were the keys to the Bruin's remaining on top 61-40 going into the final quarter.

Both teams struggled with missed opportunities and elementary mistakes early in the 4th, but with great ball movement, the Bruins were able to hold onto the 62-44 lead with 6:30 left in the game.

St. John's attitude and fight never faltered throughout the 4th, making smarter decisions on the court to slightly cut the deficit and outscore the Bruins 18 to 12.The Bruins displayed an impressive offensive team effort, but stand-out guard and hot hand, Jordin Canada, lead the Bruins from the field making 10 of 19 and finishing with 23 points.

"Jordin's difference from this year is her leadership, and her jump shot," stated Coach Close.

Powerhouse Monique Billings was instrumental in the Bruin's game, grabbing 14 rebounds and finishing with 7 points. Nirra Fields finished with 14 points, and Kacy Swain had 10 points.

The Red Storm's Aaliyah may be short in stature with her 5-5 frame, but she's a giant in her playing skills, leading St. John's with immense focus and finishing 7-16 from the field. Aliyyah Handford led St. John's with 14 points and Imani Littleton led the team in rebounds with 8.

Overall, the synchronized team effort, ball movement, and pressure contributed to the Bruins remaining on top in a 73-58 win over St. Johns.

"We didn't just beat an ok team, we beat a good team, and they were tough," said Coach Cori Close after the victory.

The coach was pleased with her team, but overall was very satisfied with what she saw on the court: "I don't think we played very well offensively,"coach stated, noting that more players need to get involved to take the pressure off the veterans.

"All of our catches were not deep, we've got to do a better job there, we've got really great forwards."

When asked about growth from last year, it's apparent that these women are focused on perfection.

"I have a team that wants to be excellent, and I think that's the most important," said Coach Close. "Maturity is something we've all grown in, we all push each other," Monique Billings added.

When it comes to communication and team development, Jordin Canada was pleased with her team's effort. "I thought our first three-quarters were really good I think in the 4th quarter, we lacked, which caused us to foul more, leading them to outscore us."

As the Bruin's look into some tough games, like facing the #2 ranked South Carolina on November 22, Coach Close noted that their offensive game must be a focus: "We want to increase tempo and press harder, we need to force tempo, get easy shots off our defense, that'll continue to be our focus". "We need to create offense together, and that's our growth area."