Talk about a game face. At Sunday's game against USC at Pauley Pavilion, Chinyere Ibekwe's expressions were that of a player pushed to the edge.
The UCLA center/forward scowled fiercely any time a defender dug an elbow into her back. Her brow would furrow whenever she pulled down a board. And when she dived for a loose ball and reached out with one arm, her lips curled and her eyes flashed.
"I try to play with a lot of passion," Ibekwe said after UCLA beat USC, 87-75. "My teammates talk about my facial expressions all the time. . . . I should have the same intensity for every game, but when you play SC, you just want to get out there and go hard."
Ibekwe finished with 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. The senior said that before the Bruins walked onto the court, everyone on the team said aloud what they would contribute to the game.
"Mine was mad woman rebounding," Ibekwe said. "I held myself accountable, and I did just that."
The last time UCLA (11-3 overall, 2-1 in Pacific 10 Conference) and USC (8-6, 2-1) met was in the 2008 Pac-10 tournament when UCLA won, 73-52. But Sunday's win marked the first time the Bruins have beaten the Trojans in regular-season play since 2004.
"It's big," sophomore guard Doreena Campbell said. "We're like, man, this is our first SC win."
Campbell was the leading scorer for the Bruins with 20 points, including four three-point shots, although she struggled in the first half, unable to connect on multiple jump shots and turning the ball over three times.
UCLA led at halftime, 40-34, but USC surged back after the break, tying the score at 58 with less than 10 minutes remaining. Then the Bruins pulled ahead on a 10-point run that went unanswered for three minutes.
Although guard Camille LeNoir put in 14 of her 20 points in the second half, the Trojans were unable to regain their footing.
USC Coach Mark Trakh said his team played harder in practice than on Sunday.
"We gotta start talking about our heart and our determination -- if we want to put a body on somebody, if we want to fight, if we want to scratch, and if we want to claw," Trakh said. "We seem to do that in the Galen Center."