BERKELEY, Calif. -- UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell wasn't concerned about her team's ability to bounce back from a 26-point loss to fourth-ranked Stanford.
It was the challenge she laid out for the Bruins' top three players that was on Caldwell's mind.
No need to worry.
Darxia Morris scored a career-high 22 points, Jasmine Dixon shook off some early shooting struggles to make two key baskets down the stretch and Doreena Campbell added 13 points as No. 8 UCLA held on to beat California 65-56 on Saturday.
"I really challenged Jasmine, Doreena and Darxia to take on more ownership of this team, and they did so today," said Caldwell after her team's fourth straight win over the Bears. "It's been their team all along. We're going to go as they go. For them to take on that ownership, it speaks volumes to growth we've had from just a month ago."
The Bruins didn't display much progress in Thursday's 64-38 loss to Stanford and looked shaky at times against California, especially in the first half.
But with its conference-leading defense holding Cal to eight points over the final five minutes, UCLA (16-2, 6-1 Pac-10) rebounded from the blowout loss to Stanford and stayed within a game of the front-running Cardinal.
The Bruins were far from sharp offensively most of the game and couldn't put the pesky Golden Bears away until Atonye Nyingifa made four free throws in the final 52.6 seconds to seal the win.
Nyingifa finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
DeNesha Stallworth scored 22 points for California (11-7, 3-4 Pac-10), which lost at home for just the second time this season.
The Bears missed five straight free throws after cutting a 14-point lead to six points with 5:17 to play.
"In the first half we were so tentative and in the second half we had a much better flow," Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. "[But] 56 seconds left on the clock and we miss our last four free throws. Just all those little things that you have control over."
UCLA had it's share of problems, too.
The Bruins committed 12 turnovers in the first half and 16 for the game but controlled the ball down the stretch after Cal made its run.
Dixon credited the challenge from Caldwell as being the spark UCLA needed.
"She just said that if we lead, the rest of the team will follow," said Dixon, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "She told us that we had to take responsibility for that loss [to Stanford], and the three of us took that and divided it up. That loss was devastating but we came out with a fire to redeem ourselves."
It wasn't easy and it definitely wasn't pretty.
The Bears scored six straight points and pulled within 60-56 on Eliza Pierre's breakaway layup with 57.3 seconds left. Pierre was fouled on the play but missed the free throw and Cal couldn't get closer.
Pierre's miss was the fifth straight from the stripe over the final 5:17 for the Bears, who had missed only one prior to their struggles down the stretch.
That enabled UCLA to extend its best start since beginning 18-2 during the 1980-81 season.
The Bruins, who saw their 13-game conference winning streak snapped with the loss to Stanford, also continued their streak of defensive gems. California committed 16 turnovers, shot only 39.1 percent in the first half and was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers.
UCLA has not allowed an opponent to score more than 67 points in regulation this season. Then-No. 12 Notre Dame scored 83 in a double-overtime loss to the Bruins on Nov. 18.
Morris added six assists and Doreena Campbell had 13 points for UCLA.
Morris had 11 points in the first half and was one of the few UCLA players shooting well early. After going 3 of 10 with nine points in the loss to Stanford, Morris made five of her first eight shots against Cal and had 11 points by halftime.
Morris made an 8-foot jumper from the right side to give the Bruins a 32-19 lead with 34.6 seconds remaining.
Despite committing 12 turnovers in the first half, UCLA still took a 32-23 advantage into the break while holding Cal to just three baskets over the last six minutes before halftime.
"We just rushed getting the ball," Caldwell said of her team's early problems. "In the second half we were more patient within our offense. And they played more of their 1-3-1 zone and that gave us some corner looks for our guard play."
The Bruins pulled away to start the second half and led 47-33 on Morris's 6-footer from the baseline. Cal responded with an 8-0 run and continued to chip away at UCLA's lead, getting within six points four different times.
But the Bears couldn't make their free throws and Dixon scored on consecutive trips down the court to help the Bruins hold on.