November 2011 Archives
By no means was the feat easy. Reduced to seven players going up against 11, the UCLA women's basketball team put its fortitude to the test, countering brute and brawn with huffs and puffs in a high-octane 78-71 victory over San Diego State Wednesday night at Collins Court. The Bruins may have led by as many as 16 points (thanks to a whopping 22-0 run in the first half), but the game went down to the wire. In the end, it was Rebekah Gardner and Atonye Nyingifa who steered the team to victory, and not surprisingly, logged in the most minutes on the floor. Gardner (39 minutes) made her mark with 20 points and eight rebounds, while Nyingifa (38 minutes) notched her fourth double-double of the year with a career-high 21 points to go along with 11 rebounds. In the spirit of the final exam craze creeping through the campus, the cram notes for tonight's game are as follows: The DefenseSimply put, the Bruins can chalk this win to their ability to come through on the defensive end. The Aztecs jumped out to 6-0 lead to open the game, until of course the Bruins went on their 22-0 tear, one made possible by a series of steals and contested shots. And again, when San Diego State seemed to be the aggressor early in the second half, UCLA tightened the screws on defense. "I give my assistant coaches a lot of credit. They suggested the adjustment with when we go to zone defense and when we go to player-to-player defense," coach Cori Close said. "And our players, they locked in mentally when we made those defensive shifts. They made the mental shifts with the assistant coaches, and that was the difference in the game." The Size DisparityIt was quite clear the Aztecs had every intention of exploiting UCLA's shortage in players with their 11-player rotation, seven of whom fit under the "6-footer" category. Undoubtedly, SDSU's size advantage wore out the Bruins at periods in the game. But Mariah Williams may have summed it up best: "I've been playing against players way bigger than me since I was two years old, so I'm used to it," the 5-foot-4 guard said. "But if you really want it more than the other team, height and size won't matter; there were a couple times when I was boxing out the biggest player out there. If you want it more, you go get it." The Mariah Williams EffectTrue to her words, Williams certainly wasn't shy about establishing a presence on the court. She may not exactly be billed as the Bruins' go-to scorer, but the junior guard made it a point to drive to the basket. She only shot 2-of-3 from the field, but drew plenty of contact, enough to go 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Williams did have five turnovers, but certainly provided a needed spark with a season-high 11 points and four assists. "After the West Virginia game, I re-evaluated how the season is going so far, and I think I can help this team by being more aggressive" Williams said. "The team depends on my defensive ability, but if I'm not a factor on the offensive end, it's pretty much 5-on-4 at that point, so me being aggressive on offense helps us a bit."
That's more like it.
UCLA put together its best performance of the season with a 62-39
clobbering of Pepperdine on Monday night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
It was double-trouble for the Waves, who took a 1-2 shot
from twin brothers David Wear and Travis Wear, who both had their best game yet
since transferring to UCLA (from North Carolina). David tallied 10 points, seven
rebounds and two blocks while Travis finished with eight points, 10 rebounds
and three blocks. Senior guard Lazeric Jones led the Bruins (2-4) with 14
points, six steals and four assists. The twins and Jones all agreed the team
came together on the defensive end after severe issues through the team's first
"As a team, we came together a little bit tonight," Travis
Wear said. "We helped each out on the defensive end. We played unselfish, and
that's really going to help us out in the long run."
UCLA coach Ben Howland said the team played with passion,
which helped the Bruins limit Pepperdine (3-3) to just 11 points in the first
half. Pepperdine failed to have one player tally double figures in scoring or
"We have to play with that kind of desire every time we play
to be successful," Howland said. "Our team defense was by far the best effort
we had all year."
Freshman Norman Powell had another solid performance for the
Bruins, adding 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Howland also pointed
to Jerime Anderson and Tyler Lamb as major factors in helping UCLA improve its
It was a dominant 20-2 run during the first half that helped
UCLA turn a 7-6 deficit into a 26-9 lead and an easy victory. The Bruins didn't
give up much from the perimeter, holding Pepperdine to just 3 of 9 behind the
arc and made up for a 36-35 rebounding deficit by forcing 15 Pepperdine
turnovers while limiting themselves to just seven turnovers.
"Sometimes you got to get a win to know how to win," Jones
said. "We did what we need to do to win, and hopefully we can continue to do this."
While Pepperdine isn't expected to finish at or near the top
of the West Coast Conference, the Waves already won at Arizona State and at
Texas San Antonio, so it was important for UCLA to defend its home court.
"We appreciate the fans who were here tonight," Howland
said. "Those are true blue Bruins fans. 1-4 hasn't happened around here in a
long time, and they came out for an 8 p.m. game on Monday night."
More important, UCLA had its first win it could really build
off after taking some lumps in the EA Sports Maui Invitational (besides a win
"We learned we've got a long way to go," David Wear said. "We
needed to play harder - we didn't match our opponents' intensity. Tonight, we
"We dove for loose
balls and helped teammates out. We showed how good we can be."
a day when the head honchos of the NBA labor negotiations rebounded
from months of failed talks to successfully rescue a season, the UCLA women's
basketball team also did some bouncing back of its own, salvaging a
two-game tilt in Northridge with a 68-48 victory against Colgate.
wasn't quite the post-Thanksgiving plans the team had in mind, given a
63-54 loss to West Virginia in Friday's opener of the Holiday Inn
Thanksgiving Basketball Classic. But save for a slow start, the Bruins
didn't suffer from a lull in tonight's second game of a back-to-back
set. Some takeaways from the win:
Rebekah Gardner, the Slasher
it an ongoing evolution if you will, but the elder Gardner sister
repeatedly attacked the basket tonight, scoring on multiple layups as
well as mid-range jumpers for a game-high 21 points to go along with 10
rebounds. It was much of the same story for Gardner on Friday when she
netted 19 points.
season with the likes of guards Darxia Morris, Doreena Campbell, and
forward Jasmine Dixon managing the primary scoring duties, Gardner was
relegated as something of a long-ball specialist coming off the bench.
But this year, she has clearly earned the license to drive, and it's
certainly an encouraging sign for the Bruins.
year, I was more of a shooter because we had Darxia and Doreena,"
Gardner said. "This year, it's just what the defense is giving me. If
they give me a lane to drive, I'll drive. It's just a different feel
if the team weren't undermanned enough already, UCLA was without
freshman forward Kacy Swain, who suffered a concussion in the first half
on Friday. That left coach Cori Close to work with essentially a
seven-player rotation, with all seven logging in 20-plus minutes on the
"Fatigue was a factor, but it was all the better because it was another opportunity to learn to become tougher," Close said. "We got beat by West Virginia because we weren't tough enough, so what better way than to be down to seven players and have to play the next day and figure out, 'How do I dig in when I'm really tired?'"
the bench generated just 11 and 7 points, respectively, in the past two
games. The imminent return of junior Markel Walker from injury,
however, should add that much more depth in the scoring department.
News & Notes
the subject of injuries and bench production, Swain is currently
day-to-day and questionable for Wednesday's contest against San Diego
Madeline Brooks made her collegiate debut at the 3:30 mark of the
second half in tonight's game. But to the light-hearted disappointment
of radio color analyst Tracy Murray (himself known as a shooter during
his playing days at UCLA and in the NBA) and Bruin fans, the freshman
walk-on didn't have a chance to hoist up a jumper. The blue and gold tea leaves,
though, indicate she'll have a trey notched to her name by the time
conference play begins.
The holiday seasons have arrived, but for the UCLA women's basketball team, rest is only fleeting. Coming
on the heels of their first loss of the season last week against top-ranked
Baylor, the Bruins march into Northridge on Friday, taking on West
Virginia in the opening round of the Holiday Inn Thanksgiving Basketball
Classic. But until then, some quick reflections are in order. Bruises and Lessons from TexasUCLA
may have taken a beating against Baylor, but there was some insight
gleaned in doing battle against the top-ranked team in the country. In
fact, the Bruins did a stellar job of holding their ground early in the
game, trailing 30-23 heading into halftime before Brittney Griner
and the Bears pulled away in the second half. "That
first half showed me that they were starting to believe that they could
accomplish what they needed to accomplish, together," coach Cori Close
said of her players. "In the second half, we were put against the ropes,
and we learned how important rebounding and guard play are. Everyone's
going to talk about Griner, and she gave us exactly what we thought, but
it was (sophomore guard) Odyssey Sims who dictated the rebounding and
the game, on both ends of the floor." What's at Stake in NorthridgeDon't
expect the Bruins to take these next two games in Northridge lightly.
This season marks the first time that the RPI (or Ratings Percentage
Index) formula for women's basketball is the same as the one used for
men's hoops, meaning that more weight will be given to road wins than
home wins in determining the seeding for the postseason. Suffice it
to say, the Bruins will seize whatever opportunity they can to build
upon their resume. "Here
we've got two local games that are technically road games, and if we
can get two wins in Northridge, that would be big in the RPI," Close
said. "On top of that, West Virginia is a perennial Sweet 16-level team
with dominant post play, so I see this as a great opportunity for us." On the Injury FrontSome
reinforcement may soon be on its way for the Bruins. Junior
forward Markel Walker, who had offseason thumb surgery, has made some
progress and may be making her much-welcomed season debut mid-December. As for freshman guard Alexis Perry, her recovery from a knee injury will likely have to wait a bit longer. "Alexis
is coming along really well, but we're going to take this slow," Close
said. "She has rushed back from injuries her whole life, and it has put
her at a deficit. This is about her being able to pick up her kids one
day, as well as being a great point guard at UCLA, so we just need to be
really mindful of putting her in a position to be successful." A New Bruin in the FoldAnd
finally, fans may have noticed a new face among the Bruins in recent
games. That would be freshman walk-on and sharpshooter Madeline Brooks,
who Close decided to add on after receiving high recommendations from
was initially against adding another player to our roster," Close said.
"I agreed to meet with Madeline just as a favor to my colleagues, and her
character, work ethic, and passion blew me away. It's about her heart
and her commitment to doing what is right even when there are no coaches
around, as much as it is about her being a great long-ball shooter. She has really been a great addition so far."
Starting 0-2 is nobody's idea of a good time, except maybe when 0-2 lands you in Hawaii. The UCLA men's basketball team might not be as loose as they would be at 2-0, but there's no question Coach Ben Howland will need to find a fine balance between ratcheting up the pressure to win a game and making sure his team's psyche doesn't suffer permanent damage from this year's rough start.
The good news for UCLA fans is college basketball season has barely started and the Bruins have enough talent for Howland to straighten things out before the Pac-12 schedule gets underway in late December.
The EA Sports Maui Invitational continues for the Bruins with today's game against Chaminade. It's a great chance to get things turned around and prepare them for a matchup against Kansas or Georgetown on Tuesday.
Just in case things get too hectic between tip-offs, we'll ask questions that should be answered during both games:
When will Reeves Nelson start making good decisions and be the leader he should be for the Bruins?
Howland must be practicing the mantra, "patience is a virtue," my personal favorite, with Nelson. He gives the junior forward a second chance and is rewarded by seeing Nelson miss the team bus for the airport trip to Hawaii. Go read more about it at LATimes.com, which is covering the team live from Hawaii this week. Opining is best left for Twitter, but Nelson should know Howland is giving him every chance to grow up. Not every boss is so tolerant.
Will Howland have UCLA play a zone defense?
He alluded to it in the postgame media conference after the loss to Middle Tennessee State. "We probably should have changed it up and gone to zone," Howland said. "It's something we'll have to think about." Of course, he then went on to talk about how to handle ball screens but with 6-foot-10 David and Travis Wear and 6-11 Joshua Smith, a 2-3 zone could cover a lot of ground. Of course, zone defenses are usually beat two ways - strong dribble penetration and perimeter shooting - both major issues for the Bruins during the first two losses.
Is a big-name opponent going to force the Bruins to take notice their season has started?
OK, Chaminade isn't a big name - but the game on Tuesday will be against another elite program. Is that sort of challenge the spark this team needs to figure things out? Clearly, winning back-to-back games in Hawaii with a win over one of those two teams would turn this season right back around.
Quarterback Kevin Prince, tight end Joseph Fauria and cornerback Andrew Abbott have been honored by the College Football Performance Awards after helping the Bruins defeat Colorado 45-6 in the final home game of the season this past Saturday (Nov. 12).
Prince threw four touchdowns with zero interceptions. He was 15-19 for 225 yards, while also rushing for 84 yards on 10 carries.
Fauria caught two of Prince's touchdown passes and tallied five catches for 49 yards.
Abbott snagged two interceptions during the game and had the second-highest tackle total for the Bruins in the game with five.
College Football Performance Awards
UCLA men's basketball coach Ben Howland clearly believes in second chances after reinstating junior forward Reeves Nelson to the team after he was suspended for poor conduct and missed Tuesday night's 86-66 loss to Middle Tennessee State.
"I acknowledge there are corrections that need to be made and I'm grateful to Coach Howland to have this opportunity to improve and work on being a positive for our team," Nelson said. "I appreciate the support of my teammates and will be there for them as we move forward."
While Nelson works himself back onto the team, let's take a quick look back at Tuesday night's loss and see what answers we got from the game.
LOWDOWN LOOK BACK
We wanted the following questions answers before the game:
Can Joshua Smith dominate against another big body?
*He sure can on the offensive end, where he collected all nine of his rebounds. But until UCLA figures out all of its defensive issues, we won't know the complete answer.
How much will Jerime Anderson's return help UCLA with its perimeter defense?
*Not at all on Tuesday night. After the Blue Raiders made 10 of its 11 3-pointers, UCLA opponents have now made 20 of 26 shots behind the arc.
Who will emerge as a rebounding force during Reeves Nelson's absence?
*Middle Tennessee State shot so well on Tuesday night, there weren't many rebounds to grab on the defensive end. Nobody besides Smith stood out on the glass, which means the Bruins are still looking for another presence on the glass to join their sophomore center and Nelson.
A quick YouTube search might just reveal the core essence of one Brittney Griner: a swagger parlayed in her national-spotlight interviews; hands seemingly designed for swatting shots (she has 11 blocks in just two games this season); a ridiculous frame imposing even for the untrained eye when opposing players stand beside her. And who could forget the aggression chronicled in Griner's fist-flying altercation with Texas Tech's Jordan Barncastle two seasons ago? Like it or not, this is the 6-foot-8 slice of pie the UCLA women's basketball team faces in its WNIT semifinal matchup against top-ranked Baylor on Thursday. They may have made some inroads in their win over Tennessee Tech on Sunday, but can these Bruins successfully enact David versus Goliath? Three key dynamics will likely determine UCLA's fate in Texas: Battle of the BigsIt's no secret that the Bruins - without the services of forwards Jasmine Dixon and Markel Walker because of injuries - will have quite the load to handle with Griner manning the post. Be that as it may, the strategy is simple. "Our goal is to stay behind her," sophomore forward Rhema Gardner said. "We'll play her straight up and push her out to try and turn her into a jump shooter." UCLA will also need its own share of output from the post in order to jump-start the offense. In other words, redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa will be looked upon to continue to crash the boards and put up points as the team's makeshift center. "Atonye has to be a double-double player for us," coach Cori Close said. "It may not be her post-ups; it may be picking and popping, but she'll have to find ways in her game to create those opportunities." The Other Bear While Griner may garner the national attention, Baylor still wields a potent backcourt weapon in sophomore guard Odyssey Sims. Last season's Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Sims has built a reputation as both a slasher and a shooter (she shot at a.453 clip from beyond the arc in 2010-2011), and it will be imperative for the Bruins to limit the Baylor guard's presence on the court. "With Baylor, the ball starts in Odyssey Sims' hands," Close said. "We have to keep her in front of us and, at the same time, get close enough to disrupt her vision so that she isn't throwing pinpoint passes." The VenueThursday's game marks UCLA's first road game of the year, and while it's certainly one way to break in the road jerseys, how the Bruins compose themselves in a hostile environment figures to matter a great deal. After all, only three of the eight players (Nyingifa, senior guard Rebekah Gardner, and junior guard Mariah Williams) who have been out on the court so far saw significant playing time in seasons past. "More than anything in the game plan, it's the mental state going into a game like this," Close said. "We need to go in there with a sense of freedom and the desire to compete. No pressure is on us." Ask Rhema Gardner, and it's a point well taken. "We're definitely not afraid," she said. "We're more excited than anything."
Middle Tennessee State made an summer afternoon in Death Valley look frigid in its 86-66 EA Sports Maui Invitational opening round victory over UCLA men's basketball on Tuesday night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
The Blue Raiders improved to 3-0 after shooting a sizzling 71.4 percent from the field. MTSU made 35-of-49 field goals and flirted with the NCAA record book before missing out despite making an impressive 10 of 11 3-pointers. UCLA doesn't track defensive field goal percentage but if it did, it's hard to imagine they've surrendered worse under Coach Ben Howland, who called the score embarrassing.
"I've never had a team allow a team to shoot 71 percent," Howland said. "We broke down a lot of times, leaving open shooters."
It was a tough night for the Bruins, who fell to 0-2, despite a solid performance from center Joshua Smith, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. UCLA trailed for the final 38 minutes of the game and failed on the defensive end.
"It doesn't matter what defense we play," Smith said. "It's going to take the effort of all five guys. We need five people out there playing defense for 35 seconds at a time. We're still working on that."
MTSU had five players score in double figures, and center LaRon Dendy led the way with 16 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
While UCLA couldn't pick up a stop, they also struggled to make a shot. The Bruins shot 37 percent and made 4 of 20 3-pointers. Guards Lazeric Jones, De'End Parker and Jerime Anderson combined to make just 7 of 23 shots, but Howland credited Norman Powell, who finished with nine points on 4 of 7 shooting, with a strong second half performance.
"He's shown he deserves to play minutes," Howland said of Powell. "He's been a bright spot in both games combined."
Twins David and Travis Wear continued to look inconsistent and rusty as they work their way back into playing shape after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Travis finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three steals, while David had just six points and two rebounds in 32 minutes.
Howland also said he met with suspended forward Reeves Nelson and his parents on a conference call and is scheduled to speak to him 1-on-1 to determine the mercurial junior's future with the team.
Anderson, who finished with nine points, including a 4-point play, and six assists, said the poor start puts a damper on their upcoming trip to Hawaii.
"We're excited to go out there, but it's all business for us," he said. "We've got to go out there to play games and win games, not hang out on the beach and see pretty girls."
This UCLA season didn't wait long to go into hyperdrive.
Between the stunning loss to Loyola Marymount last Friday and Monday's
suspension of junior forward Reeves Nelson, there's no question the Bruins will
need to put all of it aside against Middle Tennessee State in tonight's 8 p.m. EA
Sports Maui Invitational opening round game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Nelson's suspension means the Bruins will go without their
top returning scorer and rebounder against the Blue Raiders, who won at LMU on
Sunday. UCLA head coach Ben Howland said UCLA played poorly in the loss and called the suspension
of Nelson, "a very disappointing situation for Reeves and our basketball
If not for Nelson's suspension, there might have been more
hubbub about Joshua Smith admitting
and apologizing for an immature tweet after losing to LMU. He deleted the
tweet, which read "Just lost to some straight bums lol" according to the Los
Now UCLA must put it all behind and focus all its attention
to a Blue Raiders team that Howland told reporters looks quite advanced with an
experienced lineup that starts four juniors and senior center LaRon Dendy, who transferred
from Iowa State.
"We'll have to have a great effort," Howland said in his Monday press conference. "They're
very experienced, well-coached and extremely athletic. They're impressive
watching them on film."
THE LOWDOWNIt will probably be a long road to return to the national rankings after dropping out this week but UCLA can get it started right away with a win tonight.
Three things we want answered:
Can Joshua Smith dominate against another big body?
* Dendy is 6-foot-10, 235-pounds and is averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds in the Blue Raiders first two games. Smith struggled in the opener against LMU.
How much will Jerime Anderson's return help UCLA with its perimeter defense?
* LMU made 10-of-15 3-pointers against UCLA, so it's vital the Bruins do a better job preventing Middle Tennessee State from getting open looks from behind the arc.
Who will emerge as a rebounding force during Reeves Nelson's absence?
* If Nelson is out for an extended period of time, UCLA will need several players to improve their rebounding after finishing with just one rebound more than a significantly shorter LMU team.
On the Blue Raiders: Middle Tennessee State is 2-0 with wins over Austin Peay and LMU, which it toppled 58-51, on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. Dendy is joined by Marcos Knight in averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds in their first two games this season. JT Sutton, a 6-8, 230-pound forward is another strong rebounding presence. The Blue Raiders play in the Sun Belt Conference.
When Cori Close made her prodigal return to Westwood as the head coach of the UCLA women's basketball team in April, she came with a reputation as a basketball mind specializing in offense. But on Sunday, she put to display a defensive bag of X's and O's, her Bruins playing with an air-tight defensive fervor that had their coach glowing after UCLA's 74-52 victory against Tennessee Tech at Collins Court. "I was very pleased with our defense today," Close said. "We were able to get out and run and put the defense in situations where it couldn't rotate, but that came with our physical play on the boards; we boxed out and controlled possessions. We're really causing teams to get out of rhythm by switching on every matchup." While redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa had yet another stalwart game, posting her second double-double of the season with 16 points and 14 rebounds, it was sophomore guard Thea Lemberger who set the tone early for the Bruins. Within the opening two minutes of the game alone, Lemberger scored her first basket on a fastbreak layup, drew a charge, and hit a three-pointer for good measure to spark a 6-0 run. She ended the day with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 4 assists, and a steal."For me, it's just about getting more comfortable with the new role I have this year, adapting, and being confident. I definitely expect more performances like this for myself," Lemberger said. The second-year Bruin out of Santa Monica High also did her part in slowing down the Golden Eagles' most dynamic player in quick-footed senior guard Tacarra Hayes. Lemberger and starting backcourt mate Mariah Williams teamed up to limit Hayes to 13 points on just 6-of-16 shooting. "Our team did a good job of following the scouting report on Hayes," Lemberger said. "She made some tough shots, but we made the defensive adjustments and contained her pretty well." Two other Bruins who impacted today's game: sophomore center Corinne Costa and senior guard Rebekah Gardner. While Costa didn't have much to show for in the box score (two points, one rebound, one block, and five fouls), she certainly made her presence felt in the lane, altering numerous shots and fighting for position against Tennessee Tech's 6-foot-5 senior center Brittany Darling. "Corinne came in and did one heck of a job," Nyingifa said. "It was really physical out there, but she came in with a positive attitude, ready to play defense and get boards. I'm really proud of her for just taking it and giving the team her all." As for Gardner, she may have started off slow, but she picked up the pace in the second half, snaring rebounds left and right and draining mid-range jumpers off of isolation plays. Gardner wound up notching her first career double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three steals. "Every time you go to the free-throw line, that helps with the rhythm," said Gardner, who knocked down 7-of-8 from the charity stripe. "But I also came out with a more aggressive mindset, and that helped carry me through the entire game." Next up for the Bruins? A date with first-team All-American Brittney Griner and top-ranked Baylor in the semifinals of the WNIT in Waco, Texas. "I like the challenge," Nyingifa said. "We're going on the road for the first time, but we're pumped and ready to accept this challenge and take it head-on."
Behind an impressive 10-of-15 (66.7%) performance from beyond the arc, Loyola Marymount defeated UCLA, 69-58, in both teams' season opener. UCLA, by contrast, shot just 2-of-15 from long distance.
UCLA head coach Ben Howland: "We had a lot of mental breakdowns defensively, and offensively, we took a lot of shots that were not great shots."
Bruin center Joshua Smith was plagued by foul trouble in the first half and finished with just five points in 16 minutes of play. He quickly picked up two fouls in four minutes of action and played just six minutes total in the first half.
Howland and the Bruins will have to quickly rebound from the loss, as they host Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday. "The bottom line is we've got to study film and learn from this because we have another game Tuesday against a team that is equally tough," he said.
*LMU took control of the game with a 12-0 run early in the second half after UCLA had taken a 42-41 lead. The Lions' run gave them a 53-42 lead, and they never led by less than five points the rest of the way.
*The Lions' bench outscored UCLA's, 17-9, led by C.J. Blackwell, who had nine points, all from three-pointers (3-of-4 from three-point range).
*UCLA guards were a combined 6-of-23 from the field
The fresh throwback threads were snug, the lively crowd of 914 cozy, and the UCLA women's basketball team continued the theme in its season opener, churning out a comfortable 67-59 win against McNeese State Friday at the Collins Court. The Bruins may have advanced into the second round of the preseason WNIT, but perhaps more importantly, continued onward along the development curve, an identity steadily appearing. And if anything can be said this early on in the season, it's that coach Cori Close will be looking to tweak her offense to generate production from within the paint. Against the Cowgirls, the Bruins put up assist after assist with the wing players penetrating the defense and either getting to the line, feeding the ball into the post or creating put-back opportunities. Redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa and sophomore combo guard-forward Rhema Gardner certainly reaped the rewards. Nyingifa again proved to be the stake in the claim, scoring 16 points and matching her career high with 12 rebounds. Gardner also shined with a game-high 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting. "If we can get the ball into the paint and get it up on the glass, our rebounding angles will be better," Close said. "We have to attack the paint and not rely just on jumpers, and I thought we did a good job of being aggressive with that today." The starting backcourt of junior Mariah Williams and sophomore Thea Lemberger shared the duty of floor general and did so effectively, the two combining for nine assists and a variety of heady plays. Small wonder Gardner and Nyingifa had a field day. "When the guards push the ball, it gets us down the court to post up and get position," Gardner said. "That's just been our main focus so far, to get the ball up the court." "We follow our guards," Nyingifa agreed. "If they're pushing the ball in transition, they're fulfilling their roles. We have a great court awareness with them, in terms of where we are on the court at all times." One dynamic that figures to be an interesting one for the Bruins as the season stretches on is the transition from Pauley Pavilion to the more compact Collins Court inside the John Wooden Center. Smaller though it may be, the confines of the latter venue make for an advantageous feel for a young team that will need the fan support in its maturation process. "I actually like it," Gardner said. "The fans are more up close and personal, so there's just a lot of energy. I like the atmosphere a lot." The Bruins return to Collins Court on Sunday at 2 p.m. against East Tennessee State for the second round of the WNIT, retro jerseys, good vibe and all.
For true UCLA men's basketball junkies, tonight's 7:30 tip-off can't come a minute too soon, unless it means more time for forward Reeves Nelson's left ankle to heal after injuring it earlier in practice this week.
UCLA already has a crosstown rival, so some might think it's opening with a crosstown patsy in Loyola Marymount. After all, the Bruins are 15-2 overall against LMU and haven't lost to the Lions since a stunning 40-34 defeat in 1941.
That's right, the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the site for tonight's game, wasn't even around the last time UCLA lost to LMU. Of course, at this time of the season, it's as much about the Bruins themselves as it is about the opposition.
Fox Sports West is televising the game, but it is Friday night - go have some fun and snag yourself a ticket for the game through this very website.
Three things we want answered:
* Will Nelson's ankle injury hinder him from dominating on the glass?
Nelson has the mental attitude and talent to really give LMU serious trouble on the glass. Now we just need to know if his ankle (X-rays were negative) is ready as well.
* What impact will not starting Joshua Smith have against a smaller LMU team?
The Lions aren't listing a probable starter taller than 6-foot-8, nor heavier than 220 pounds, which means Smith would have a 2-inch height advantage and 80-plus pound weight advantage in the post to start the game. Either way, Smith should be a dominant force against a smaller LMU team.
* How much will UCLA miss Jerime Anderson?
The senior guard is serving out the remainder of his two-game suspension, leaving the Bruins without a true backup point guard. Tyler Lamb will need to run the team when Lazeric Jones is resting.
On the Lions: LMU isn't the tallest team, which means the Bruins should give them a lot of trouble with their length. The Lions are also missing their best player, senior forward Drew Viney, who has a foot injury that will keep him out until December. Junior guard Jarred DuBois should be a familiar name for Los Angeles high school hoops fans, as he played at Westchester High School. DuBois played in only six games last year due to injury but should be a leader on both ends of the court for the Lions this year.
Coach Ben Howland called it a sacrifice his team will make to play in a updated, state-of-the-art Pauley Pavilion next season, but when UCLA opens its season against Loyola Marymount on Friday night at home in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, there are several UCLA administrators who hope the Bruins and their fans don't feel like it's a big one.
And if the early indicators are any sign of what's to come, it should be a fun season for everyone interested in UCLA men's basketball.
The marketing team at UCLA sent more than 20,000 fold-up road maps to its season ticket holders and alumni that is titled 2011-12 UCLA Men's Basketball Bruin Road Show, with center Joshua Smith finishing a dunk on the cover with a map of the Westside behind him. Unfold the map and it details how UCLA will be playing its home games at the Sports Arena (14 of them) and Honda Center (four games), some details on UCLA's history at the Sports Arena (it's rich), the season schedule and how to order tickets.
It's a clever way to approach a season in which UCLA forecasted less revenue, and it's not the only thing UCLA will do to drum up support from its fan base.
Scott Mitchell, UCLA associate athletic director of marketing and business development, said the Bruins are looking to update their game day presentation while away from Pauley Pavilion in preparation for next year.
"What the UCLA fan sees, feels, associates with game day, we've skewed toward our tradition and history in the past, and we'll continue to have that as a focal point," Mitchell said. "But there are a lot of 18-to-22 year-olds (that represent UCLA basketball fans), and we have the opportunity to do some different things (to attract them to games)."
Sunday's exhibition game in Ontario at the Citizens Business Bank Arena showed a few new features for fans - namely a DJ spinning popular music during breaks to add another layer of festivities to the atmosphere and an emcee to complement the Public Announcer and help with different fan events.
Mitchell said UCLA intends to listen to its fans as it tries new things and focus its attention on what excites its fanbase.
"The DJ will be in the student section (on Friday), so we'll see how that works," Mitchell mentioned. "We'll change based on what gains traction."
It's not just DJs and free T-shirts, which cheerleaders will be throwing to fans at home games either. Ken Weiner, senior associate athletic director of business operations, said UCLA has worked diligently with the Sports Arena to update the venue and make it feel like UCLA's home court.
Weiner said the outside of the venue will have blue lighting, the team will use last year's Pac-10 Tournament court with updated UCLA decals and logos, and even the old chairs of the Sports Arena will be updated to represent UCLA.
"They've upgraded the venue for us," Weiner said before showing a picture on his mobile phone of a new scoreboard being put together. "We're doing everything we can to make it home."
Howland said he was impressed with the work done on the home team locker room when UCLA hosted a closed scrimmage against Cal State Fullerton at the Sports Arena last week. And while Howland knows it's not going to be the same as playing games on campus, he appreciates some of the history between UCLA and the Sports Arena.
"Coach Wooden was coaching there before Pauley, so I kind of like that," Howland said. "Hopefully, we become tougher mentally because we're on the road. It should make us tougher."
It was a grab bag of hard drives, flailing arms and gritty grapples in the paint, but in the end the UCLA women's basketball team's exhibition game against Vanguard served its purpose, providing the Bruins an opportunity to display their arsenal in an 81-52 win over the Lions. Through it all, redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa proved her mettle as one of UCLA's go-to players this season, bumping and bruising her way to 22 points and 16 rebounds. The veteran Bruin also put her intangibles on display, gobbling up rebounds and bringing the ball up the court on numerous possessions. If anything, Nyingifa's prowess was a microcosm of a need to interchange roles that coach Cori Close stressed will dictate just how far these Bruins will go this season. "Our versatility is really hard to match up with," Close said. "We're best when we can defend and create stops, and then attack and get out in transition." Other encouraging signs in UCLA's debut stemmed from the plays of freshmen Moriah Faulk and Kacy Swain. Faulk's performance in fact was strikingly similar to that of former Bruin guard Darxia Morris. The first-year guard stepped into her shots with the same ease and confidence Morris sustained last year, pouring in 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. "Her jumpers were automatic," Nyingifa said of Faulk. "You give her the ball, and she's going to shoot it, whether there's someone there or not. That was some great confidence she showed tonight." As for Swain, the freshman from St. Bernard's High School worked in some nifty post moves, scoring on a variety of putbacks and jumpers en route to 17 points and nine rebounds. Provided she keeps it up, Swain figures to play a prominent role during a year in which big bodies will be a premium for the Bruins. Perhaps the two players who, in their own respective ways, hold the keys to the Bruins' 2011-2012 season are none other than the Gardner sisters. Sophomore guard Rhema Gardner put to use every inch of her lengthy frame, getting her hands in the passing lanes and sticking to her defensive assignments, with a pair of blocks and some fancy footwork to boot. "Rhema came out and delivered right off the bat, using her length and making her presence known on both sides of the ball," Close said. "She had never started a college game before, so to watch her step into that new comfort zone with confidence and aggression was great to see." And while Rebekah Gardner didn't exactly light up the scoring column - she finished the evening with a quiet 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting - the senior guard didn't hesitate to get physical, pulling down 11 rebounds and throwing her weight around in a few heated tussles for loose balls in the second half. "All of those loose balls and rebounds that Rebekah got in the second half, when her shot wasn't falling, showed to me a step up in maturity," Close said. "A lot of times, when shots aren't falling, a good shooter will let that affect other areas of their games. But that didn't matter tonight; she was going to find other ways to help this team." The final verdict? Tough to say. As with any typical exhibition game, plays at times ran rampant and rugged. But for Close and her coaching staff, it was an indication that just maybe, the personnel is in place for the Bruins to keep clawing.
Joshua Smith didn't start
for the Bruins, but he definitely finished in their 80-72 exhibition victory
over Cal State San Bernardino on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Business Bank
Arena in Ontario, Calif.
The 6-foot-10, 305-pound
sophomore scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed seven rebounds for UCLA,
which opted to bring Smith off the bench to help avoid picking up early fouls.
But once he did get in, the Bruins knew their exact point of attack.
"Our offensive thought
is always to feed it into Josh," said sophomore forward David Wear.
"I don't think anybody can guard him inside 1-on-1."
Wear also touted Smith's
performance at the line after he made 14 of 18 free throws. UCLA used its size
advantage to get the line 41 times, making 33 of them on the way to victory.
Smith said he's focused on making sure he doesn't fade away from the line and
following through on the shots.
"Every time I go out
there, we all know our job and my job is to help my team the best way I
can," Smith said. "I just want to go out there and make sure I'm
sealing, posting and passing. I got mad at myself when looking at my field
goals. There were a few tip-ins and if I put a little more on them, I would
have gotten some and-1's."
Junior forward Reeves Nelson
also had a strong performance with 16 points and 10 rebounds. UCLA head coach Ben Howland credited
him with making a pair of 3-pointers and mentioned his vocal leadership as
"I've never been a
player that puts too much into points," Nelson said. "But rebounds
are something you can control with effort and position. I am definitely trying
for double-digit rebounds in every game."
That's likely music to
Howland's ears, who wants to use his team's size advantage all season. The
Bruins took home a 40-30 rebound advantage, including an 18-11 advantage on the
offensive glass, against a team Howland called a "good test."
He wasn't kidding either.
UCLA needed a pivotal 9-0 second-half run to regain control after CS San
Bernardino took a 60-58 lead with 7:33 remaining.
"It was good to see our
guys fight back," Howland said. "We've got to be a better defensive
team. We'll get together and watch this as a team. We will not beat a lot of
people on our schedule until we play better defense."
The rust showed for UCLA,
which started David and Travis Wear, who were playing their first college game
in over a year after sitting out last season (due to transfer rules).
But both David and Travis
each showed glimmers of why Howland is so excited to have them as part of the program.
David took a charge on one end that fouled out starting guard Tre Brewer. Then,
he followed it up with a big 3-pointer on the offensive end. Travis added 10
points in 15 minutes.
"I was too
excited," said David, who started at small forward. "I thought way
too much. I just wanted to get this first one out of the way."
And now that it's out of the
way, David and the rest of the team will get a chance to see how much
excitement is building among the UCLA faithful on Friday night, when the Bruins
open the season with Loyola Marymount at the LA Sports Arena.
Exhibition games might be seen by some as a chance to work out some kinks and get ready for the season.
But log into the Cal State San Bernardino men's basketball website and their promo page for Sunday's exhibition game with UCLA leads with a giant, all capital letters headline of "WHAT IF ..." and I don't think any of us need Coach Ben Howland to tell us what it means.
Of course, Howland and the coaching staff know the drill by now. Every team UCLA faces, especially nonconference foes, will give the Bruins their best game. That means UCLA can't overlook any team, even in an exhibition game against a Division II program that leads their website with the name of a classic comic book.
If you're too lazy to drive (or just too far away): Go high-tech and watch the game on a live video stream from UCLABruins.com. For five bucks, get your hoops fix and get an early look at this Bruins team.
Three things we want answered:
*How does Travis Wear's right hand look? After spraining it during practice this week, Wear returned to practice on Friday and looked ready to go.
*How much of an impact can Tyler Lamb make on the defensive side of the court? Howland has great confidence in his defensive abilities, which likely means he'll emerge as an on-the-floor leader for the Bruins.
*How big can the Bruins go? Howland will likely start 6-foot-10 David Wear and Joshua Smith, with the 6-5 Lamb and the 6-8 Reeves Nelson. Lazeric Jones will run the point and will be the small fry in this bunch at 6-1. Don't be surprised if Howland plays both Wear brothers with Lamb, Nelson and Smith - just to see how small they'd make the Coyotes look.
On the Coyotes: CS San Bernardino is one of the better Division II programs in the state, although it's coming off a disappointing season. The Coyotes have four transfers, including Pablo Genero, a 6-10 Spanish player who spent last season playing for South Plains Junior College in Texas. Genero's size should be useful against the Bruins, especially considering Theron Laudermill, a 6-7 center, is the Coyotes lone returning all-conference player.
Pick your favorite cheesy rock ballad about touring. Add it
to your preferred mp3 player (or CD player for those of you still working that device), and bring
it along for the ride. Sunday's exhibition game against Cal State San
Bernardino at Ontario's Citizens Business Bank Arena is just the beginning of a
Bruin basketball season that in some ways will feel more like a rock tour.
The Bruins won't play in Pauley Pavilion this year while
it undergoes renovations, so they'll be on the road again and again.
The good news is the Bruins have a great bunch of groupies -
err fans - (I'm talking to you UCLABruins.com blog reader!) and there's no
reason not to make these traveling home games a fun event. So we'll try to
share a few tips and tricks about the trip to Ontario for UCLA's 2 p.m. tip-off
against San Bernardino.
Of course many Bruin fans and students can take advantage
of the buses
available from Jackie Robinson Stadium, but for more of the road trip vibe,
here are some tips on this first road trip.
- Make sure you give yourself plenty of time. Sure Google Maps suggests a travel time just over an hour from those on the Westside, but if you're going to travel that far, why miss tipoff?
- Since you're going to give yourself some extra time, do something fun in Ontario. For starters, hit the massive shopping area, Ontario Mills, which is within walking distance from the arena. Who knows, you might even find some new UCLA gear to wear!
- Who doesn't love tacos? One of my personal favorites, King Taco, is listed by Yelp.com readers as the best place to grab a few tacos (or burritos) before or after the game in Ontario.
- Enjoy free parking at the game! That's right - Citizens Business Bank Arena offers free parking, which means you can spend more on concessions at the game.
Plus, think about this trip to the Inland Empire, home of former UCLA star point guard Darren Collison, as the first of several exciting trips to take while following around the Bruins like they're your favorite local band hitting the road.
There is a certain charm to the way Cori Close conducts herself.
Whether it's the clasped hands when being spoken to, the instinctive tendency to lean over the table when speaking, or the calm gaze betrayed instantly by the lively coach-speak that bursts out when the conversation touches on her vision of the future, the first-year coach of the UCLA women's basketball team is, as senior guard Rebekah Gardner would say, "personable."
"We know that this year, it's a lot different with the coaching change," Gardner said. "But we've just got on board and gained a really good relationship with Coach."
Indeed, as if taking over for a successful coach in Nikki Caldwell weren't challenging enough, Close has taken charge of a team plagued by a wave of injuries during the offseason, most notable of which is the ruptured Achilles tendon of senior forward Jasmine Dixon, who will likely miss the season.
But if there's one thing that can be said for the Bruin coach, it's that adversity hasn't done much to temper her demeanor, even when the number of available bodies thus far in practice has ranged anywhere from five to nine.
"There's one way we're going to win: We're going to get more possessions than our opponents, and we're going to be more versatile," Close said. "And my thing is, if you bring your strengths every day, we have enough.The reality that we have to face is that there's not one player on our team who is playing a role she's played before."
That predicament resounds particularly well for Gardner, the sole active senior for the Bruins. Last season, the lanky sharp-shooting guard was essentially the sixth-man sparkplug. This time around, Close has called upon Gardner to become the primary scorer and vocal leader.
"It's different," Gardner said of her responsibilities this season. "But each year that I've been here, I've had to take on a new role. Each year, I've stepped in and taken on that role to the best of my ability, and I plan on doing the same this year."
The obstacles are certainly many for the Bruins in their attempt to vault back into the NCAA Tournament. But Close and her team remain determined as ever, slowly but surely learning to adopt and embrace a fighter's mentality.
"We had our best and hardest practice of the year the other day, and Mariah Williams asked me, 'Why, Coach, did you think it was our best practice?'" Close said. "And I told her, 'Because you had about six different forms of severe adversity thrown at you, and never once did you hang your head, and you had the best reps of the day at the end of practice, when you were most fatigued.'
"That was a huge step for us, but now we have to string those days together until that becomes the identity of our team. We haven't arrived yet, but we'll get there."