The last time a nationally ranked women’s basketball opponent came to Sacramento 21 years ago, Sacramento State upset Texas.
But there wouldn’t be a repeat Friday night when No. 19 UCLA ventured into The Nest, the first Pac-12 team to play in Sacramento since 2000.
Loaded with tall, long, athletic players and led by extraordinary guards Nirra Fields and Jordin Canada and gifted 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Monique Billings, the Bruins sprinted to a 109-76 nonconference win.
Fields, a senior, finished with a game-high 22 points and seven rebounds; Billings had 20 points and seven rebounds and Canada 16 points and seven assists.
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Kennedy Burke, a 6-1 freshman guard had 12 points and eight rebounds and Kacy Swain, a 6-3 senior forward, added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Maranne Johnson led Sac State (2-6) with 20 points and three steals and junior forward Gretchen Harrigan added 12 points.
Having played a big-time schedule that included losses to No. 2 South Carolina by three points and to No. 3 Notre Dame in overtime, the Bruins (7-2) were more than prepared for the scrappy Hornets and their frenetic “The System.” The Hornets came into the game as the Division I national leaders in steals, three-pointers made and second in offensive rebounds and turnover margin.
But Sac State led for all of 17 seconds, 5-4, before missing its next 13 shots as UCLA went on an 18-0 run. The Hornets twice cut the lead to four points early in the second quarter, before the Bruins pulled away to lead by 12 at the half and 20 points after three quarters.
Sac State coach Bunky Harkleroad said UCLA was the best team the Hornets have faced this season, even a tad better than No. 21 Cal. The Golden Bears beat Sac State 117-99 Dec. 6 in Berkeley.
“UCLA is a very good basketball team, and they have a great point guard and kids that can shoot the ball,” Harkleroad said. “They did a great job of guarding us. We had a lot of unforced errors. We missed 10 free throws. We didn’t rebound like we have been….They played well tonight and we didn’t.”
The Bruins shot 63 percent (44 of 70) from the field and were 86 percent (18 of 21) from the foul line. They held Sac State to 30 percent (27 of 89) shooting including a season-low 20.5 percent from three (8 of 39). The Hornets missed all 11 of their second-half three-point attempts.
The Bruins scored 72 points in the paint and outrebounded the Hornets 58-33. Sac State gave away several inches of height in almost ever individual matchup.
“They have eight kids 6-1 or bigger and their guards are so good,” Harkleroad said. “They are such a multi-dimensional team. They knock down free throws, they finish at the rim, they shoot mid-range jumpers well. I think you have to give them credit for whipping us. ”
Canada, a point guard who is on the Naismith Watch List as one of the nation’s top players, slalomed through Sac State’s press, delivering crisp passes and making spectacular moves to the basket for layups. She made 8 of 12 shots, grabbed five rebounds and had three steals.
But she showed she was human, too. She committed five turnovers as Sac State forced the Bruins into a collective 26 turnovers. Sac State had 11.
Johnson showed a fearless demeanor for Sac State, even while struggling from beyond the arc where she made just 2 of 11 shots. Several times the 5-7 Johnson drove to the basket and scored layups or floaters against taller defenders. She made 9 of 22 shots, but never got to the foul line.
“She didn’t back down,” Harkleroad said. “But she didn’t get enough shots. I was hoping she’d get 30 shots and maybe try to create a little more for herself and her teammates.”
Sac State will try to get its first home win in three tries on Sunday when it hosts Big West Conference favorite Hawaii at 5:05 p.m.