The Pirates braced for a test Sunday afternoon against the No. 11 UCLA Bruins, and they responded with a concerted effort. Despite a heightened intensity that came about in the final three quarters, a difficult first quarter ultimately led Seton Hall to a 77-68 loss. With the result, the Pirates fell to 7-3 on the season.
Seton Hall defined its pace and play off its steals. The Pirates recorded 12 takeaways for the game compared to the Bruins’ five, and the offense thrived on the other end when the Pirates ran the game at their speed.
With starting guard Inja Butina out due to an injured nose, junior Nicole Jimenez stepped up in her stead and recorded a career-high 20 points. Her 6-of-7 shooting and 3-of-4 performance from three helped lift her team out of a rut when scoring was hard to come by.
“Nicole [Jimenez] will be the first person to tell you she’s disappointed [in her play this season],” coach Tony Bozzella said. “She’s a lot better player than she had been playing. And there is no one that works harder… She’s just playing through, not being able to adjust quite yet.”
The Bruins, a team with size, made scoring in the paint difficult for the Pirates in the first quarter. Seton Hall was able to dominate on the offensive glass, but only due to plays that were made up of layups that continued to bounce off the rim.
The Pirates were outscored 22-15 in the first quarter after putting up a 17.4 shooting percentage (4-23) compared to the Bruins’ 66.7 percent (10-15). It was after that first quarter that Seton Hall played the Bruins evenly on the offensive end, with UCLA holding just a two-point advantage in the final three quarters. Jimenez and Donnaizha Fountain were the go-to weapons for the Pirates as they challenged the Bruins’ lead.
Heading into Sunday’s game, the Bruins held opponents to 61.3 points and were defeating teams by 16.1 points per game. After scoring 68 and losing by nine points, Seton Hall put up a competitive effort that Bozzella wants to see from his team each game.
“We don’t get to mimic that [speed] every day,” Bozzella said. “We could’ve gotten run off the floor, but we didn’t, we kept fighting and fighting, and I was proud of the girls for that.”
The largest lead UCLA held throughout the game was a 15-point edge in the second quarter. The Bruins went on 7-0 runs in the first and third quarters that coincided with scoring droughts for SHU, but the Pirates were not complacent and kept the game competitive despite UCLA answering their advances.
The game was part of a home-and-home series that will see Seton Hall travel to UCLA next season. Bozzella said the matchup was arranged to be a test and challenge for his team to learn and improve from.
“What I wanted to see is how we would play against the best,” Bozzella said. “We had to make some changes in the way we wanted our kids to be tough, and they responded well to it. We had a hard week of practice…It certainly was a competitive game.”
For the Bruins, five players scored in double-digits, led by Monique Billings’ 17 points and six blocks. Jordin Canada added a double-double with her 11 points and 10 assists. Whenever Seton Hall threatened to make a run, those players had an answer.
Throughout the game, a Seton Hall crowd of 1,165 cheered on the Pirates through their high and low points. Postgame, Bozzella commended the crowd and expects another large one for the team’s game against Fairfield on Thursday, Dec. 21 at 11 a.m. The matchup is the last non-conference game for Seton Hall before it begins Big East play against DePaul on Dec. 28.
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @eswint22.