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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL : Leslie Helps USC Pull Away From UCLA


The USC women's basketball team cleared a major hurdle toward a Pacific 10 Conference championship Saturday night, sweeping aside UCLA, 83-66, before 3,629 at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bruins played without All-American center Natalie Williams--whose season was ended last weekend by a knee injury--but they rallied back from a 12-0 USC run that started the game.

But UCLA had no such surges left at the finish, not after USC had built a lead that in the late going reached 26 points.

Lisa Leslie led USC, scoring 24 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking five shots in 26 minutes.

In the three-team race for the conference championship, Oregon faltered Saturday, losing at home to Stanford, 72-60. So USC can wrap up the Pac-10 title at home next weekend by beating both Oregon and Oregon State.

The Trojans (21-3) are 14-2 in conference play. They are a game ahead of Stanford, which beat USC, 80-50, on Feb. 24, and two ahead of Oregon.

UCLA fell to 15-10, 10-6.

How much did Williams' absence mean?

"It hurt our confidence," UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier said. "Having her in there as our go-to player. . . . We missed her."

Said USC Coach Cheryl Miller, who after the Stanford loss predicted her team wouldn't lose again this season: "Natalie is a great offensive rebounder, and as athletic as she is, I knew it would be difficult for them."

Leslie's 15 rebounds carried her past Williams as the Pac-10's all-time rebound leader, 1,142 to 1,137.

When USC ran off to early leads of 12-0 and 17-2, UCLA's Amy Jalewalia, Kisa Hughes and Detra Lockhart brought the Bruins back to trail by only 22-19, forcing Miller to call a timeout with 11:12 left in the half.

After that, USC was never in serious difficulty. In four minutes, the Trojans had a 10-point lead, and they stretched that to 51-35 by halftime.

Hughes finished with 18 points, Jalewalia 17 and Lockhart 16.

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