LOS ANGELES -- In an epic battle between two of the nation’s top three teams and defenses, as well as two of the last three unbeatens, No. 1 UCLA staged a late comeback to defeat No. 3 Stanford 2-1 on Thursday in front of 3,222 fans at Marshall Field at Drake Stadium. Down 1-0 with 13 minutes to play, Ally Courtnall and Annie Alvarado each scored their first goals of the season, giving the Bruins the win.
“I like that we were just very persistent after the goal,” UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell said. “I think we raised our level, got a little more urgency, and we got them on their heels. I was about to change formations to press the issue a little bit more, but honestly I didn’t have to because we were pressing the issue on our own. The girls just had the urgency, and you could tell the desire and determination were there.”
The urgency was there from both teams at the get-go in this important Pac-12 Conference matchup. UCLA (11-0-2, 3-0-1 in the Pac-12) attacked early, getting a steal and a lead pass from Sam Mewis to Taylor Smith in the first minute, but Stanford’s top-ranked defense was there to clear away Smith’s cross to Rosie White. UCLA’s defense, ranked No. 3 in the nation, matched the Cardinal clearance-for-clearance, with Ally Courtnall and Abby Dahlkemper teaming up to slow down and strip Chioma Ubogagu, who made a run toward goal in the 21st minute. UCLA’s Katelyn Rowland, the nation’s third-ranked goalkeeper in goals-against average, made a big save at the 40 minute mark, diving to her right to stop a free kick from Lo’eau LaBonta.
After the scoreless first half, Stanford (10-1-2, 2-1-1) got on the board first at 52:36, thanks to LaBonta. After an Andi Sullivan corner kick was punched out by Rowland, LaBonta volleyed the rebound from 20 yards out. Rowland, who was scrambling back into position in the box, dove for it but could not come up with the save. The Bruins nearly equalized just seconds later, but Rosie White’s shot in the box sailed high.
UCLA kept pressuring for the equalizer and got it at 76:15. Darian Jenkins started the play with a pass to Alvarado, who found Courtnall along the right sideline. Courtnall took the ball up to the top of the box and fired a left-footer to the upper left corner for her first goal of the season.
Then at 84:49, it was Alvarado’s turn to score not only her first goal of the year but the first goal of her collegiate career. Mewis sent a perfect through ball to Alvarado on the right side, and she slotted it far post past Stanford goalkeeper Jane Campbell for the game-winner.
The Bruins successfully held the ball in the final minutes of the game and gave Stanford few dangerous chances to come back and tie. A shot by Ubogagu in the 86th minute was saved by Rowland, and LaBonta had a long-distance attempt in the 89th minute that went way wide.
“When you go down a goal, you want to see what your resolve’s going to be like and what is our mentality right now and how we respond to this,” Cromwell said. “Scoring the [go-ahead] goal with six minutes to go, I thought we did a really good job of holding onto the ball. They didn’t get anything dangerous at the end of the game. In some games prior to this one, we had given up dangerous chances where a team could potentially tie us, so I was really proud about how we killed it at the end.”
UCLA is now in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 with a 3-0-1 conference record.