West Virginia 63, No. 25 UCLA 54

Traveling for the holidays has turned out well for West

Virginia.

Taylor Palmer scored 18 points and the Mountaineers beat No. 25

UCLA 63-54 in Friday’s night’s opening round of the Holiday Inn

Thanksgiving Basketball Classic at Cal State Northridge.

The Mountaineers spent last year’s Thanksgiving weekend in the

U.S. Virgin Islands, where they scored upset-victories over No. 17

Iowa State and No. 21 TCU.

This was their first victory in three games against UCLA.

”It helps because we know we can play anywhere,” Palmer said

of the team’s annual excursions. ”We don’t have to be at home to

win games. As long as we have each other, it doesn’t matter where

we are.”

While Friday’s victory gave the Mountaineers a sense of

accomplishment, it also served as a reminder of how much work still

needs to be done before they start their Big East schedule. West

Virginia shot 40 percent from the field against UCLA and turned the

ball over 22 times.

The Mountaineers had a few chances to pull away from the Bruins

(2-2) but the shooting percentage and turnovers prevented them from

doing it. A scoring drought that lasted 5:38 helped UCLA whittle a

10-point first-half lead to four points.

UCLA was hampered in the first half by poor shooting as well.

The Bruins shot just 29 percent from the floor in the opening

frame, their worst half of the season. They increased that to 43

percent in the second half but it didn’t make much of a difference.

West Virginia dominated the boards, outrebounding UCLA by a 47-26

margin.

Natalie Burton’s put-back of Christal Caldwell miss with 8:50

left in the game gave the Mountaineers their biggest lead (43-30)

but it didn’t last. The Bruins charged back, using a 16-5 run, to

cut their deficit to two points.

West Virginia answered with consecutive baskets by Caldwell and

Asya Bussie to push the lead back to 53-46. A desperation 3-pointer

by Palmer, with the shot clock expiring, gave the Mountaineers a

56-46 lead with 2:04 remaining.

The Bruins were hoping to use Friday’s game to erase the

memories of last week’s 33-point loss to Baylor. Instead it left

UCLA coach Cari Close questioning her team’s toughness.

The Bruins are saddled with several injuries, and added another

when Kacy Swain bumped her head on the floor in the first half.

Swain left the game and will not play in Saturday’s consolation

game.

Close refuses to use the injuries as an excuse.

”(Friday) was all about toughness and being mentally focused,”

she said. ”We have plenty of talent if they do the things

together. West Virginia was the aggressor. They had more focus down

the stretch and we paid the price.”

Rebekah Gardner led the Bruins with 19 points. She has been the

Bruins’ leading scorer in three of their four games.