On the heels of a momentous win against Cal on Thursday, could the Bruins somehow pull off a Cinderella performance against fourth-ranked Stanford and possibly trigger a basketball hysteria in Westwood?
Credit UCLA for making things interesting for much of the first half, but Stanford inevitably played like the powerhouse team that it is, soundly defeating the Bruins 77-50 at Collins Court. The themes of the game are as follows:
A Tale of Two Halves, in One Half
For the opening minutes of the first half, it looked as if the Bruins would continue with the momentum built from Thursday's victory; they took a 16-15 lead on Moriah Faulk's and-one bank shot in the lane at the 10:11 mark, and trailed 23-20 with 7:02 left in the first period. But like an incoming storm, the Cardinal made its eventual run, scoring in a flurry both from the perimeter and the paint to seize a 40-23 lead heading into halftime.
"We had to come out and pressure them and make the game ugly because they are such a rhythm-oriented team, and I thought we did that for the first 10 minutes," coach Cori Close said. "We got them further away from the basket, they weren't making clean cuts, and they weren't getting the clean looks that make rhythm shooters shoot well. But then we backed off a little bit and weren't applying our purpose consistently, and Stanford got pretty. Before you knew it, we were down 20."
Stanford's Brand of Basketball
It didn't take much analysis to recognize that this was a barometer game for UCLA. As Close put it after the game, "Stanford is a team that has set a standard, and they teach the rest of us what it takes to be at that level, night in and night out."
The Cardinal sure looked like the prized, Pac-12 thoroughbred in this game, setting up its offense and making the defensive rotations deliberately and almost seamlessly. Chiney and Nnemkadi Ogwumike had their way in the post, the two sisters combining for 33 points, while Toni Kokenis provided a steady flow of baskets from the perimeter with 11 points.
"Obviously, Stanford is a big and long team, but more than their size and length, it was their purpose," Close said. "They're going to get to the point of their screens when they need to; they're going to switch when they need to; they're going to step out when they need to. It's their consistent sense of purpose, and that's where I'm telling our players, 'If you want to be at that level, that's the consistent purpose you have to play with.'"
Attacking the Basket
It didn't last throughout the game, but the Bruins were clearly at their best when they were driving to the hoop. In fact, it was a pair of back-to-back and-one plays (Faulk's was preceded by a tumbling layup drive by Markel Walker) that had UCLA up by one midway through the first half.
"Any time we can take our defenders off the dribble, we want to obviously do that," said Rebekah Gardner, who led the Bruins with 17 points. "Our jumpers weren't falling as much today, so going to the basket and drawing fouls was definitely a point of emphasis."
In the second half, fatigue seemed to have set in for UCLA (combined with Stanford's zone defense), and the drives became less frequent. It's something that Close said the team will be mindful of, a microcosm of the learning curve for a still-developing group.
"We have to think about strengths and weaknesses, and we thought our strength was our quickness against their guards," Close said. "When our guards are making a mindful attempt to go to the basket, we're playing to our strengths, and when Stanford is able to get touches for the Ogwumike sisters or wide-open threes, they're playing to their strengths. If we as a team can learn from that and recognize what plays into our hands, we are going to grow as a program. That in my mind is the most important thing."