LOS ANGELES -- For UCLA, it was the kind of game the Bruins dreamed about: a big victory over a highly ranked team at home, with senior stars Monique Billings and Jordin Canada leading the way.
For Baylor, it was a lesson in being able to maintain focus on the task at hand, even when there's so much tugging at your heart away from the court.
The No. 8 Bruins beat the No. 3 Lady Bears 82-68 on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, the first of two huge games in a row for UCLA, which will host No. 1 UConn here Tuesday.
While UCLA prepares for that blockbuster, Baylor returns home to Waco, Texas, and then will head to the Bahamas for the Junkanoo Jam tournament Nov. 23-25. The Lady Bears made this trip to Los Angeles without coach Kim Mulkey, whose daughter Makenzie Fuller lost her baby to serious health issues this week. Makenzie, who played for Mulkey from 2009 to '13, is the team's associate director of basketball operations.
The Lady Bears were also without their second-leading scorer, sophomore forward Lauren Cox, who had to be hospitalized Wednesday after a case of strep throat resulted in complications with her diabetes. Cox is out of the hospital now, is in good condition, and is expected to return to action soon. But, initially, her illness came on rapidly and shook up the team, too.
"The life lessons that these kids had thrown at them this week -- that's some big-time adult stuff to have to deal with," said Baylor associate head coach Bill Brock, who directed the team in Mulkey's absence. "We had our down moments, but we came out and had a good practice [Thursday] and good shoot-around [Friday]. We just got beat by the better team today."
Brock had a lot of praise for the Bruins, who had not defeated an opponent ranked in the top three in the country since beating then-No. 2 Stanford in 2008.
"I was so impressed with that group today," Brock said of the Bruins. "I just think UCLA has a tremendous team. They have great team balance: perimeter shooting, ball handlers and good post play. And they push the ball so well in transition offense."
UCLA's Cori Close was very proud of her group, no doubt. But she also said the standard coach stuff, about not making too much of it, because it's only November and what matters most is March.
True, but there's nothing wrong with the Bruins basking in this one. For a few hours, anyway, before their focus shifts to the Huskies.
Billings (21 points, six rebounds) and Canada (20 points, 13 assists) are both California kids who came to UCLA hoping to help the program make headlines nationally. They've done that, with UCLA winning the WNIT title their freshman year in 2015, and the Bruins advancing to the Sweet 16 the past two seasons.
Last season's regional semifinal loss was to UConn, 86-71. The Bruins are hoping they can make a competitive run at the Huskies on Tuesday.
"We want this challenge," Close said. "We obviously have tremendous respect for Connecticut; they're a great basketball team, and we're going to have a great crowd here.
"I asked these players, when they came here, to believe in doing something really, really special. We've got to come in with confidence and a game plan we believe in."
That's what UCLA did against Baylor on Saturday.
The Bruins knew there was likely no stopping Lady Bears junior center Kalani Brown, a strong, 6-foot-7 low-block presence. She finished with a game-high 33 points, going 13-of-17 from the field and 7-of-8 from the foul line.
But freshman guard Alexis Morris (11 points) was the only other Baylor player who scored in double figures. Take away Brown, and the rest of the Lady Bears shot 28.8 percent from the field (14-of-50).
Last November, UCLA lost 84-70 at Baylor, despite the Bruins leading 48-41 at halftime. UCLA seemed to get worn down and lose confidence in the second half of that game.
"Nothing took the wind out of our sails tonight," Close said. "We didn't 'solve' Kalani Brown, but we kept playing to our strengths. I think it truly is maturity, poise and emotional balance."
Even when Baylor cut UCLA's lead to four with 7 minutes, 25 seconds left, Canada described the Bruins' mindset as "calm." The Bruins then went on an 11-0 run, and their lead never dropped below double digits after that.
"We didn't get frazzled," Canada said. "We've been in this situation many times. We now know how to deal with it. I thought our whole team stayed composed."
The Bruins will need plenty of that Tuesday, of course, against UConn. But as Close said, this is exactly what they want to face.
"It's a monumental step forward for us," Close said of Saturday's victory. "But I think my favorite thing about the game is there was no massive celebration. We were excited, but we expected to come in and take care of whatever we needed to do."