February 2012 Archives
Maybe it was the aura of the pre-game circumstances that made all the difference on this special day.Playing
in their last home game of the season, the Bruins made sure to make
this one count, giving the fans much to cheer about with a 72-58 win over
Arizona to complete the sweep of the season series.To
be sure, it was an emotional atmosphere at the John Wooden Center, what
with the Bruins honoring former NC State women's basketball coach Kay Yow by
adorning pink breast cancer awareness accessories and celebrating the
career of Rebekah Gardner, who played in her last Bruin home game. The headlines of today's results are as follows:Winning with the BigsIt
was all but etched in stone that the Wildcats were going to go
guard-heavy to try to win this game. Of the Arizona players who suited
up, Erica Barnes was the only 6-footer who saw more than five minutes of
action on the floor. Granted, the Bruins didn't have too many options
inside, either; Corinne Costa was sidelined with a knee injury, while
Markel Walker played just 22 minutes for disciplinary reasons. But it
was Kacy Swain who filled the void, providing some steady offense with
14 points on an efficient 6-of-12 shooting. And it wasn't just her
signature turnaround fadeaway jumpers; the freshman forward made a
concerted effort to crash the glass, collecting seven rebounds and
scoring on put-backs as well. "My
coaches told me before the game that because we were going to be
missing some of our main players, I was going to have to really step up
today for us to come out with a win," Swain said. "And because it was
Rebekah's last home game, I wasn't going to have her go out with a loss.
I wanted to do everything that I could to get this win." If
performance was indeed the way to pay homage to the sole Bruin senior,
then Rhema Gardner did her sisterly deeds manning the post. Although her
shooting wasn't pretty (0-for-7 from the floor), she raked in 12
rebounds, using her long and athletic frame to sky for the 50-50 balls
and securing said boards against a swarm of Wildcats hoping to reach in
for the held-ball calls. Oh, and it didn't hurt that Walker had her
usual all-around game, albeit in limited minutes: 17 points, 12
rebounds, and two assists. Rugged Officiating, Testy Moments, and a Lively CrowdAfter
a relatively calm and entertaining first half, the game turned
noticeably testy, but this time not amongst the players. The officiating
was quite frankly a bit erratic in the second period, to the annoyance
of the fans in attendance. On plays where contact was drawn, the
whistles at times went silent. Then in other spurts, the game suddenly
became one of ticky-tack calls, a clear source of frustration for the
Bruins who were looking to make a run and pull away in the second half. "The referees started to call the game tight, so we just had to keep our composure," Rebekah Gardner said. At
one point, an official even charged Bruin head coach Cori Close with a
technical foul, the cue for the boo birds to rain down on the striped
crowd sensed when we needed them today," Close said. "They even had my
back when I got the technical foul, and I thought our team did a great
job of feeding off of that energy. The reality is, the home-court crowd
is a big deal in basketball. That sense of connection can be a powerful
thing, and I thought the energy from our fans was the best today." 'Bek's Last OutingBefore
the game, Rebekah Gardner was given a much-deserved tribute with her
last home game upon her, complete with a video-board message from
teammates and the coaching staff, a bouquet of flowers, and a standing
ovation from the Bruin faithful. During the game, Gardner simply shined,
whether it was draining jump shots (3-for-3 from beyond the arc) or
attacking the basket. She finished the day with a game-high 21 points on
9-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, and five assists. After the game, Gardner reflected back on her four years at UCLA, noting how much has changed from her freshman season to now. "I've
definitely come a long way," she said. "When I first came here as a
freshman, everything was so big and I didn't know anything. It's crazy
how things have changed. This year, Coach Close has given me so many
opportunities, and I'm just very thankful for that. I've learned so much
over my four years here, from each coaching staff."
It would be an understatement to say there was more to the story than the scoreboard on this Thursday night.
While a final score of 53-38 in favor of UCLA might conjure up thoughts of a pristine, dominant performance by the Bruins against Arizona State, it was hardly easy. Truth be told, the product on the floor was often groggy and grimy, with UCLA down 20-8 midway through the first half. But to their credit, the Bruins mustered just enough down the stretch, taking advantage of the Sun Devils' lackluster shooting to seal the victory. The post-game takeaways are below:
'Bows and Whistles
The tension was unmistakable. For stretches in the game, it essentially became a matter of which team would be first to cede to the physicality. Rebekah Gardner was often at the center of the near-altercations, the elbows and tugs explicit enough to draw the ire of the officials. And if it wasn't the senior guard, younger sister Rhema Gardner had to deal with a fair load of the tussling, what with ASU constantly looking to score their points from the paint.
"I never want us to lose our focus out there, but I loved how Rebekah and Rhema played feisty," UCLA head coach Cori Close said. "I loved that they said, 'Hey, I have your back' and played with that spirit. They weren't going to let anyone cross us."
Considering the Sun Devils' preference to dump the ball into the post and Rebekah Gardner's tendency to attack the basket, the chippy play was to be expected. After all, much of the extracurricular activity stemmed from both teams going after putbacks and defensive rebounds.
"Arizona State is probably the most physical team in our conference, and they're known for that," Close said. "Credit ASU; they made Rebekah work so hard for every catch, but the key was that Rebekah was able to get Arizona State's Alex Earl in early foul trouble."
Sun Devils Cold in the Clutch
As mentioned above, Close noted that the key moment was when Earl, arguably the Sun Devils' most reliant shooter, picked up her fourth foul with 12:07 left in the game and took a seat on the bench. That, in turn, enabled the Bruins to heighten the defensive pressure against Arizona State's bigs, and the Sun Devil guards just couldn't buy a basket. The result? Forced entry passes into the post, with the Bruins taking advantage. In the last 15 minutes of the game, ASU's inability to score allowed UCLA to go on a 24-7 run and essentially ice the game. By game's end, the Sun Devils shot just 2-for-14 from beyond the arc.
"We noticed that they weren't looking to take the outside shots, so we really just emphasized packing our defense into the paint," Rhema Gardner said.
Playing without Costa
Given Arizona State's post-centered game plan, the size and length of Corinne Costa figured to play a major factor coming into this one. But the sophomore center wound up playing just three minutes after going down with a leg sprain early in the first half. Close later acknowledged that she was given the clearance to play Costa in the second period, but decided not to take any chances. Had Costa been at full strength, ASU's post players likely wouldn't have been such an influence, especially in the first half.
But be that as it may, UCLA again got solid minutes from Rhema Gardner, who scored eight points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field to go along with nine rebounds and a pair of steals.
The results really weren't in
question for this one.
Coming on the heels of two losses in
the Bay Area and in need of a win to keep themselves in contention for the top
seeds in the Pac-12 standings, the Bruins were outplayed from the start Sunday
afternoon, resulting in a 66-54 loss against the Women of Troy.
Once the third-place team in the
conference, UCLA now falls to 7-7 and remains fifth in the Pac-12, a full
game behind fourth-place USC (8-6). The takeaways from today's outing are
A Case of Deja Vu
The plan for the Bruins coming into
today was to learn from their last matchup against USC (a grind-it-out one at
that) and speed up the tempo of the game. But right from the opening tip, the
pace was slow and slurred. After registering the first basket of the game on a
layup by Rebekah Gardner at the 19:39 mark, the Bruins didn't score again until
the 15:54 mark on a three-pointer from Markel Walker. What made it worse for
UCLA was that the Trojans' offense looked crisper than in the previous
cross-town contest. Midway through the first half, USC broke the game open with
an 18-9 run, paving the way for the decisive win.
What surely must have frustrated the
UCLA coaching staff was that despite the Trojan momentum, the Bruins have shown
throughout the season that they were capable of a better showing, especially
during a first half dotted with letdowns and lapses.
"It wasn't so much what USC did
as it was what we didn't do," Gardner said after the game. "We have
to be composed during pressure situations and take care of the ball. USC is a
good defensive team, but it was on us to play better out there today."
The Difference from Down Low
As it turned out, the guard play
took a backseat to what transpired in the post. For the most part, the Bruins
and Trojans kept each other's guards in check. On the other hand, while UCLA
corralled just eight points from their post players, USC's Cassie Harberts went
to work in the paint and set the tone early for the home team, ending the day
with a game-high 26 points and nine rebounds.
As for the rebounding, it was
advantage Trojans. UCLA head coach Cori Close had made it clear prior to this
game that defensive rebounding was what would enable the Bruins to play to
their strength: getting out in transition and scoring quick baskets. For a
second time, though, that just didn't happen. Overall, UCLA was out-rebounded
48-37, with a 33-24 margin in defensive boards.
"It's a credit to USC; they
played with great focus, and their hustle for loose balls and rebounds gave
them second and third opportunities, especially in that first half," Close
News & Notes
Gardner had to come out of the game
with 18:49 remaining in the second half after being on the receiving end of an
inadvertent elbow from Brianna Gilbreath. Gardner later returned to the floor,
but not after getting four stitches on her lip.
Fans might have also noticed
Madeline Brooks getting the surprise start today, which Close explained was
purely because of the freshman walk-on's efforts during practice.
As for next week, the Bruins play
their last two home games of the regular season, hosting Arizona State on
Thursday and Arizona on Saturday.
Never mind the school spirit that says it's time to return the favor against the Women of Troy.
It seemed like it was just yesterday when the UCLA women's basketball team debuted its throwback jerseys in an exhibition tiff against Vanguard. But alas, the season is slowly winding down to an end, and if the Bruins want to put themselves in the best possible position for the Pac-12 tournament, they'll have to take out USC tomorrow at noon at the Galen Center.
Of course, the last time these two teams met, USC came away victorious after 40 minutes of a rugged, drawn-out game. So it stands to reason something will have to change for the Bruins tomorrow. For starters, look for UCLA to speed the game up, as opposed to the low-scoring 47-43 affair back on Jan. 14.
"The reality is, we spent way too much time in our last game playing defense and giving USC those second opportunities," UCLA head coach Cori Close said. "It'll be so key on so many levels for us to control the defensive boards, not only because we don't want to give them those second-chance looks, but also because we need that so that we can play uptempo and play our best offensive game."
Not just that, but the Bruins will also need their scorers to live up to their roles. After his team secured the win at the John Wooden Center, USC coach Michael Cooper made no secret of the fact that his strategy was to shut down the trio of Rebekah Gardner, Markel Walker, and Thea Lemberger. While Gardner still managed to put up 20 points, Walker and Lemberger combined for just nine points on quiet shooting nights. Quicken the pace of the game, and the Bruins up their chances.
As for defense, the key will be to limit USC's Ashley Corral. In the previous matchup, the senior guard didn't have much to show for in the scoring department (10 points on 3-of-12 shooting from the field), but she found other ways to help her team, chipping in with eight rebounds and, more importantly, eight assists with just one turnover.
"It won't be a matter of which individual person is going to be matched up with Ashley Corral, it'll be about our team philosophy to keep her in check," Close said. "We need to keep her in front of us and not have her get into the teeth of our defense, because not only is she really good at drawing fouls and creating pull-up jumpers for herself, but also at finding teammates for easy looks."
Also on the Bruins' radar? USC's Ariya Cook, who went off for 21 points off the bench to help defeat Cal in the Trojans' last game. Incidentally, the freshman guard scored 11 of those points in the last two minutes of overtime, emerging as yet another offensive weapon for USC.
"Obviously, Cook was the difference-maker at Cal and has been coming on strong lately, so that adds a different dimension because she's a different kind of player from Corral," Close said. "One of our keys will be to basically shut down that position, and that's going to take tremendous focus on our part because they are so different."
How this Pac-12 season ends is anyone's guess, what with UCLA and USC tied for fourth at 7-6 in the conference, and Arizona State and Oregon State tied for third at 8-6. But with a win tomorrow in Trojan territory, the Bruins will certainly place themselves in good position in what will likely continue to be a crowded race to the finish.
The puns on press row wouldn't stop as the UCLA stats
team served notice that twin sophomore forwards David and Travis Wear were both
going to finish with double figures in points and rebounds in a 64-54 Pac-12
victory over crosstown rival USC on Wednesday night at the Los Angeles Sports
Bruins fans can pick their own fun name - whether it's a "twin
double-double" or "double-double, double-double" but it was clear both Wear
brothers wanted to atone after not playing their best in a loss to Cal last
David tallied his second career double-double (16 points,
13 rebounds) after having just one rebound against the Bears. Travis notched
his first career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
"I was hard on myself with how I played," David said. "I
used it as motivation coming into Monday and Tuesday practices. I knew the only
way I could turn it around is to play harder and come with a different mindset."
UCLA (15-11, 8-6) enjoyed another strong performance from
senior guard Jerime Anderson, who finished with 14 points, five assists and
"He played good defense tonight," Coach Ben Howland said.
"He did a good job leading tonight. He was positive, talking, talking to
teammates in the timeouts. He was exceptional, and I was happy to see him go
out with a sweep over our crosstown rival."
UCLA never trailed against the Trojans (6-21, 1-13), who
are in last place in the conference, and led by as many as 23 in the second
half. But Howland gave a lot of credit to the USC players and coaching staff
for making the game competitive down the stretch. But UCLA made sure to give
its home crowd, which featured a large presence from the student body,
something to celebrate.
"It means a lot to get the sweep - that's what means the
most to me," Anderson said. "I can't ask for anything more."
By all means, this was a precarious week for the Bruins.
Heading into Thursday's contest against Cal, UCLA had sole possession of third place in the Pac-12 standings with a 7-4 conference record, one game behind the Golden Bears but also just one game in front of a trio of teams - Arizona State, Oregon State, and USC - tied for fourth.
Well, after today's results, the West just got that much wilder. After losing 67-58 to Cal on Thursday night at Haas Pavilion, the Bruins actually kept up with Stanford for the first half on Sunday before the Cardinal used a strong second-half performance to clinch an 82-59 win at Maples Pavilion. The commentaries from both games are below:
Against the Bears
This marked the Bruins' first rematch week against their confrerence opponents, and in a way, Thursday mirrored the previous UCLA-Cal matchup in terms of the margin of the score. The difference, though, in a game that had five ties and six lead changes? Reshanda Gray, who paced the Bears with 17 points and 14 rebounds. The freshman forward and Los Angeles native was just too much for the Bruins in the second half, scoring 13 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in the final period.
It also didn't help that Corinne Costa was in foul trouble for much of this game. Costa, who dominated the previous game against Cal with a school-record seven blocks, played just 17 minutes, and it was clear the Bruins missed her size and length in the interior (see: Reshandra Gray).
Against the Cardinal
With a Thursday loss already spoiling the road trip, could the Bruins possibly pull off a shocker, going up against a Cardinal team with an unblemished 12-0 conference record? UCLA certainly stuck it to Stanford in the first half - the Bruins grabbed the 26-23 lead with 5:21 left in the period on two made free throws by Thea Lemberger - and even had their moments in the second period. But in the end, the Cardinal unleashed the wrath of the Ogwumikes. Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored 14 of her game-high 25 points in the second half, while younger sister Chiney Ogwumike registered 15 of her 19 in the final frame, often overwhelming an undersized Bruin frontcourt.
Rebekah Gardner came on late for UCLA after being held to just four points in the first period, but it was a matter of too little too late, as the Cardinal outscored the Bruins 49-27 in the second half to run away with the win.
"In the second half, we lost some of our focus, and Stanford was getting back-door cuts against us," said Gardner, who reached the 1,000 career-points scoring mark with 15 for the game. "In the second half, we weren't able to get out in transition as much as we were in the first half."
If there was a silver lining to be gleaned for the Bruins from today's game, it was the play of Rhema Gardner, who has steadily emerged as a defensive stalwart. Although she eventually fouled out of the game, the sophomore forward held her own in the post, not backing down against the Ogwumike sisters and hinting at an enforcer-type mentality.
"Rhema's intensity has increased throughout the season," UCLA head coach Cori Close said. "She's been going much more aggressively for rebounds, she understands the game plans, and she's been doing this against really good players. The biggest thing for us is, 'How do we link all the pieces together? How can we use what we know about Rhema now that maybe we didn't know about her in November and make her a better player?' We've had a lot of individual steps of improvement. Now, we have to piece it all together and make those steps of improvement as a group."
It was just one basket in California's 73-63 Pac-12
Conference victory over UCLA on Saturday afternoon at the Los Angeles Sports
Arena but a quick up-and-down pair of possessions but it served as a microcosm
for UCLA's tumultuous season.
Trailing big, trying to make something happen, UCLA guard
Tyler Lamb pressed and missed a
layup. As quick as his miss, California pushed the other way, only this time Allen Crabbe made his layup.
It was just one missed layup - the Bruins actually missed
12 total for the game - but it was a clear example of the Bruins coming up
short in crucial moments.
obviously," UCLA senior Jerime Anderson
said. "We saw where we could have been and where we're at now."
UCLA (14-11, 7-6) is now at the point of no return in its
season. Win the Pac-12 Conference tournament or don't reach the NCAA Tournament
for the third time in Coach Ben Howland's
nine years in Westwood.
The Bruins finished with a season-low seven assists,
finishing with none in the first half. Bruins players pointed to those missed
layups less than anything specific Cal did on defense.
"It was just a tough night," said David Wear, who finished with 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting and
just one rebound. "Missed a lot of chippy shots around the hoop we normally
make and we should make."
Wear took fault with his play afterward, calling it, "unacceptable
to only have one rebound."
Cal (20-6, 10-3) used the pick-and-roll on offense and
secured a 36-31 rebounding advantage to build a lead that grew to as large as
17 in the second half. Sophomore guard Justin
Cobbs, who played high school basketball in Torrance, had a game-high 18
points and five assists.
Cobbs, Crabbe and senior Jorge Gutierrez all scored in double figures. Crabbe had 14 points,
including a pair of 3-pointers. Gutierrez finished with 13 points, five
rebounds and four assists.
Jones and Anderson led the Bruins with 16 points each. Josh
Smith had 10 points and nine rebounds in a season-high 29 minutes.
Anderson spearheaded UCLA's best run of the second half,
scoring nine of his points during a critical 12-2 run that cut the Bears lead
to seven points. But the Bruins couldn't get closer.
"We had some turnovers at the end, they capitalized on
them," Jones said. "That was pretty much it."
Senior guards Jerime
Anderson and Lazeric Jones
denied any bad blood with Stanford, which means the Bruins 72-61 Pac-12 victory
on Thursday night over the visiting Cardinal at the Los Angeles Sports Arena showed the level of toughness the Bruins will need to finish the rest of the season on
UCLA (14-10, 7-5) took over sole possession of sixth
place in the conference while Stanford (16-8, 6-6) lost for the fifth time in
its past six games. And the Bruins accomplished their 10th
consecutive home victory by showing some real grit and determination.
"Lot of poise tonight," said Anderson, who finished with
12 points, six assists and three turnovers. "We grew from this game. They hit
us with a lot of punches and we hit them back. Teams are not going to fold -
ever. We need to take those hits and keep rolling and keep playing."
Anderson and Jones continued to thrive together as the
pair helped UCLA pick up a season-high 15 steals. Jones finished with a
game-high 21 points and six steals.
"We were upset we got that loss up there (at Stanford),"
Jones said. "These two games (Stanford and Saturday's game against first-place
California), we feel like they're in reach for us."
Coach Ben Howland
called UCLA a "much improved team from when we played (Stanford) in late
December," and said he was "proud of our poise.
"We held on and fought."
The Bruins had to overcome foul trouble for sophomore
center Josh Smith, who finished with
seven points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. Howland touted the defensive play
of Anthony Stover, who had four
rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes. Travis
Wear, who missed the win at Washington State with a sprained ankle, came
off the bench and added 13 points, five rebounds and three blocks. UCLA
finished with 11 blocks.
"Yesterday was my first full day of practice so I didn't
really transition (back into playing mode) at all," Wear said. "It's swollen
but the pain is not that bad. It's definitely affecting my lift. There's just
so much tape, it's like a cast on my leg and limiting my mobility a little bit."
Randle scored 16 points to lead Stanford but he also led his team
with five of its 22 turnovers.
One of Stanford's turnovers set off what might be UCLA's
play of the season. Anderson tipped the ball away from Stanford and Jones raced
toward the sideline to grab the loose ball. Beating a Stanford player and
avoiding going out of bounds, he threw a brilliant behind-the-back pass ahead
to Anderson, who finished it off with a pleasing dunk to the roar of the
excited UCLA crowd.
"That whole play happened because of Jerime," Jones said.
"He tapped the ball loose and he was working so hard so you've got to reward
him for it. I don't think I've ever made that pass before."
UCLA fans hope it's
not his last of the season either.
There are college basketball junkies, and then there's
Jeff Eisenberg. The Yahoo! Sports blogger covers all of college basketball for The Dagger. The
former Riverside Press-Enterprise reporter
and UCLA (class of 2005) alum took some time out of his busy schedule to talk
about UCLA, the Pac-12 and what he thinks about the Bruins' season.
let's start with the obvious - What are your general thoughts on UCLA this
Well, I think now that it's February, we have a pretty clear picture of what
UCLA is: A middle-of-the-pack team in one of the worst seasons for the Pac-12
in recent memory. I think the expectation that UCLA could contend for the
league title entering the season was based on Reeves Nelson having an
all-conference season like last year and Joshua Smith continuing to make
progress. Since Nelson is no longer on the roster and Smith has been erratic,
the pressure has fallen on a backcourt that lost Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm
Lee a year earlier than expected. The result is a decent team but not one that
can compete at the level where UCLA is accustomed.
With two seniors, Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson, why isn't the backcourt
more effective? Is there just too much pressure on them to perform, especially
since Tyler Lamb and Travis and David Wear are all sophomores that didn't play
much (or at all in the case of the Wear twins) last season?
actually think those guys have done a nice job this season given their talent
limitations. Lazeric has been pressed into the role of go-to backcourt scorer,
and he's performed well for the most part, averaging 13.3 points per game and
raising his field goal percentage and 3-point percentage from last season. And
while Jerime Anderson will never be what many hoped when he was a top recruit
out of high school, he's turned into a dependable role player. The problem is
UCLA has missed on some recruits in recent years, so the backcourt lacks the
talent that Ben Howland has had during his best seasons.
has suffered some real tough losses on the road. Stanford, Oregon and last
week's meltdown in Seattle against Washington were all brutal losses. Should
Bruin fans have hope they can figure this out and make a run in the Pac-12
Conference tournament -- or do you see these losses as more of an indictment on
Pac-12 as a whole is so watered-down this season that I do think a run in the
conference tournament is hardly out of the question. UCLA out-played Washington
and Oregon for most of their games on the road before collapsing late, which,
while disappointing, also shows that the Bruins are capable of beating anyone
in the league. The key for UCLA will be to rally in the final seven games of
Pac-12 play in order to finish in the top four in the league and secure a bye
in the opening round of the conference tournament. It will make it a heck of a
lot less daunting for UCLA if it only has to win three games in three days
rather than four in four.
agree - the Pac-12 is interesting this year because it really lacks a dominant
team, which should make the conference tournament an exciting one for fans of
every team. You watch a lot of college basketball so I feel like you would have
as good a feel for this as anybody outside the selection committee - how many
Pac-12 teams do you expect to make the NCAA Tournament?
I've predicted two would make it since the end of non-league play, and I'll
stick to that here. The conference collectively has a 7-40 record in non-league
games against teams in the top 100 of the RPI, which is just staggeringly bad,
to be honest. Nonetheless, both Washington and Cal look like NCAA
tournament-caliber teams to me in spite of their lack of non-league
achievements. I expect Washington to win at least 14 conference games and Cal
to win at least 13, which is probably just enough for both to eke out an NCAA
bid regardless of what they do in the Pac-12 tournament.
I've suggested that if UCLA wins seven of its last eight games and gets to
20-11, it could get an at-large bid. Is that an unrealistic expectation?
UCLA has the slimmest of hopes if it wins seven of eight and then loses in the
Pac-12 title game, but realistically, I just don't see it happening. The Bruins
lost to every decent team they faced in non-league play, and the Pac-12 isn't
strong enough this season to give them opportunities to make up for it. They
have an RPI of 112 right now, which is nowhere near good enough. Ben Howland
himself conceded last month that the Bruins' only path to the NCAA tournament
is by winning the Pac-12 tournament. While gathering momentum in February and
getting a higher seed is certainly important, I think he's right that UCLA's
season will come down to three days in March.
you see any specific thing the Bruins need - say more big games from Josh Smith
- to make this sort of run a reality?
biggest thing UCLA needs is consistent play from Josh Smith. If he can stay out
of foul trouble and score in the low post the way he did this past weekend
against the Washington schools, that gives UCLA the best low-post threat in the
league, it forces opposing teams to send double teams, and it frees up shooters
for open looks. Besides that, I'd also like to see UCLA not be so reticent to
go to a zone defense. Granted, Ben Howland wants this to be a man-to-man program
in the long run, but the personnel on this team is better suited to zone. We
saw further evidence of that Saturday when UCLA turned around the game at
Washington State by playing zone for the final 15 minutes.
how do you feel about the Wear twins' progress this season?
I don't think the Wear twins will ever become stars in the Pac-12, they've
actually progressed better than I expected this season. They both consistently
play hard, they seem to be good teammates, and they can score in multiple
different ways. Defensively, I think both have a ways to go, which is one of
the reasons I think a zone is a better fit for this UCLA team than man-to-man.
I also wonder if the fact that they both have such similar games is a
disadvantage for UCLA since they're so duplicitous when on the floor together.
covering college basketball on a national level means you not only have to give
that sort of analysis on the Bruins but about 300 other teams! How do you keep
on top of not just one team or even one conference but the entire country?
It's a challenge, but it's a lot of fun. I look for stories by talking to
players and coaches across the country, by watching as many games as I can, and
by reading stories written by the beat writers who follow the teams they cover
closer than I can. What's great about my job is that with 300-plus Division I
teams, there's always something fun to write about. That isn't always the case
when you're a beat writer limited to covering one team of 12 players
Well, it sounds like a lot of fun - especially if you like reporting and
watching basketball! Any final thoughts on this college basketball season so
far and what you expect from March Madness this year?
expect another wide-open NCAA tournament with plenty of surprises, which is
hardly going out on a limb after seeing George Mason, Butler and VCU all make
Final Four runs in the past six years. My pre-bracket Final Four is Kentucky,
Ohio State, North Carolina and Florida. I'm sure that will look silly a month
from now (or maybe a week from now), but I'll own it either way.
like it's going to be a lot of fun for college basketball fans - as usual.
Thanks so much for your time!
Read Jeff's work at The Dagger and
let us know what you think about his opinion of UCLA and the Pac-12 in the
Head football coach Jim Mora and three of his assistants will be speaking at the Clinic of Champions on Friday and Saturday (Feb. 10-11) at the Irvine Marriott Hotel. Mora will be the keynote speaker for the clinic. Coaches Angus McClure, Marques Tuiasosopo and Marcus Patton will also be in attendance.
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As the gang proved today, wins don't necessarily have to come at the expense of bitten nails and sweaty palms.
After emerging victors of their past three games via the down-to-the-wire route, the Bruins continued on their roll, this time blowing past Washington State 73-52 at the John Wooden Center. Markel Walker decorated the court in this one, recording the first Bruin triple double in eight years with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists. Then there was Rebekah Gardner, who led all scorers with 21 points on an efficient 8-of-14 shooting. The usual post-game ramblings and musings are below:
A 'W' Clinched in the Second Half
After the game, UCLA head coach Cori Close noted a particularly-telling facet of the game that would make any coach beam with pride.
"More than anything else, I'm proud of our mental growth," Close said. "This was the first game where we finally put the pedal to the metal and kept going in the second half instead of becoming complacent and having lapses in focus. We played for each other and with each other at a higher level today than I've seen up to this point."
The Bruins clearly distanced themselves in that second period, outscoring the Cougars 44-24 in the 20-minute stretch. Credit the results to quicker rotations on defense and more ball movement on offense. The Bruins stymied their opponents to just 21.6% shooting in the second half, all the while repeatedly finding the easy baskets inside (26 of their 38 points from the paint came from the second period).
"The biggest thing was our movement away from the basketball on defense," Close said. "We were late on our closeouts in the first half, but I thought we were much quicker and communicated more in the second half. On offense, we were allowing Washington State's zone defense to push us so far away from the basket, but we adjusted and made a concerted effort to move the ball off the pass and move without the ball."
An All-Around Effort
Sure, the box score shows that every Bruin scored a basket. But even without the stats sheet, the team just looked fluid and invested, particularly again in the second half. The ladies scrapped and heaved for the boards (a 50-28 rebounding margin in favor of the Bruins), made the precision cuts into the lane (22 assists), and often found the open shooters (51.8% shooting for the game).
"Everybody was open," Walker succinctly said. "It took us a while to notice and understand that we were open, but once we knew it and recognized it, we started moving without even running a play and things started getting easier."
Walker, of course, was an epitome of it all. The junior forward played especially well with Rebekah Gardner, constantly finding the cutting senior guard for the easy layups. The last piece to her triple-double, however, was something of a poetic, full-circle play. Dribbling the ball at the top of the key and drawing all kinds of attention from the Cougars' defense, she swung the ball to a wide-open Madeline Brooks, who promptly swished the basket to give Walker her 10th assist.
Rhema Gardner and Corinne Costa have been playing well as of late
It almost feels guilty to mention this now, but Costa and the younger Gardner continue to develop as key contributors to the team, and today was simply a culmination. In addition to playing gritty defense, Gardner (8 points and 7 rebounds) displayed her offensive skills as well, even creating her own shot by taking the ball to the basket from the post for the nifty reverse layup at the 14:20 mark of the second half.
"Rhema had the best game of her career today," Close said. "She caught some really tough passes, and not only did she catch them, she converted the baskets with great concentration. And on the other side of the floor, it was her deflections; it was the tips by Rhema that led to Markel getting the loose balls and the assists on the fastbreak. She was really engaged and was a huge sparkplug for us off the bench."
As for Costa, the sophomore center also proved her worth from both ends of the floor. Having shown a knack for knocking down the baseline mid-range jumpers, Costa scored with her back to the basket as well, tossing in the hooks with a noticeably softer touch than earlier this season. She ended the day with eight points (4-of-5 shooting), eight rebounds, two blocks, and two steals.
"The difference between this game and previous games for Corinne was that she got deeper touches today," Close said. "She's been getting so much deeper on her touches that she's able to score with those hook shots. I'm really proud of how much she's grown; I remember when I first got this job, she didn't believe she could play at this level, so it's been amazing to watch her discover that she really is a talented young woman."
Even from television (where I watched), you could see the
frustration on the faces of UCLA players. It was most apparent in the
exasperated look of Joshua Smith.
I'm sure the sophomore who attended nearby Kentwood High
wanted to win in front of family and friends - and he sure tried to make it
happen with a career high 24 points to go with nine rebounds. Instead, he
couldn't wrap his hands around the ball to attempt one last shot to try and
force overtime after Norman Powell missed a baseline
jump shot in the closing seconds .
It was a devastating loss. The Bruins took a double-digit
lead before crumbling down the stretch. Travis Wear sprained his ankle and the
starting forward isn't expected to play today at Washington State. Peter Yoon
at ESPN.com specifically said the
Bruins won't win the Pac-12 regular season championship after the loss.
It's a tough pill to swallow for Coach Ben Howland, his
team and the fan base. One of the most challenging but rewarding things about
UCLA is the expectation levels are sky-high. Not winning the conference is a
That doesn't mean this season can't be recovered, but it's
definitely on red alert. The Bruins (12-10, 5-5) have nine games left and likely
need to finish no worse than 8-2 to still have a shot at an at-large NCAA
Tournament bid. That won't be easy with trips to Arizona, Arizona State and St.
John's still on the schedule. The Bruins will also need to win at home against
rival USC and NorCal rivals Cal and Stanford.
At the very least, UCLA should feel confident today in its
trip to Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash. The Bruins have won 18 consecutive
games in the building, dating back to Feb. 6, 1993. I was still in high school -
UCLA freshman Norman Powell wasn't born yet - and Ben Howland was still an
If UCLA wants to recover its season, it's got a long road
in front of it, and it starts today.
Saturday's game at Washington State (2:00 p.m.) is not being produced locally. Neither FS West or Prime Ticket had the 2:00 p.m. window chosen by Washington State available (one station was obligated to carry a national women's basketball telecast and the other has L.A. Clipper coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m., making it impossible to carry a game starting at 2:00 p.m.). That decision was made in October.
The game will air on ROOT Sports Northwest. That channel is available on the DirecTV Sports Package (Channel 687) and DISH Network (Channel 426).
In addition, the game will air on Fox College Sports Pacific, available on the DirecTV Sports Package and the sports tiers of several cable companies, including Time Warner and Comcast. Check your local listings for the station in your area. FCS Pacific will also replay the game on Sat, 2/4 at 11:00 p.m. PT; Sun, 2/5 at 11:00 a.m. PT; and Mon, 2/6 at 8:00 a.m. PT.
ROSE DRAKE 1915-2012
Rose Wernes Drake, widow of long
time UCLA trainer and track coach Elvin C. "Ducky" Drake, died peacefully in
her home in Santa Monica on January 23, 2012. She was 96. Rose was
born August 14, 1915 on the family farm in Friend, Nebraska. She was the
last of eight children to Homer and Ida Dreher.
She married Ducky, a childhood friend, in 1983,
beginning a wonderful relationship until Ducky's sudden death in December 1988.
Rose was an avid UCLA fan and she
became a "regular" singing and playing piano for UCLA sports events,
song-fests, parties, and memorials. She attended most football and
basketball games into her early 90's.
Rose was loved and adored by all who
knew her. She had no children and is survived by nieces and
nephews. Visitations will take place on February 6th from 5-7 pm and on February 7th
from 11 am - noon at Gates, Kingsley &
Gates, 1925 Arizona, Santa Monica, CA 90404. The Memorial Service is February 7th at 12:30 pm at Gates,
Kingsley & Gates. Interment will take
place at 2 pm at Woodlawn Cemetery, 1847 14th Street, Santa Monica, CA
In lieu of flowers, please send
donations to the Wooden Athletic Fund, UCLA Athletics, Morgan Center, 325
Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles CA 90095-1639.
Talk about snatching one from the jaws of defeat. The Bruins (or is it Comeback Kids?) did just that, though perhaps to the most extreme and numbing degree Thursday night.
What took place on the hardwood floor of Collins Court on this occasion was so improbable that when it became reality, the UCLA alumni were literally dancing from the stands, lost in the euphoria of a complete and breath-taking stunner.
"I was telling assistant coach Shannon Perry that I'm seeing way more gray hairs than I've ever seen before," UCLA head coach Cori Close deadpanned after the game.
Down 63-56 to Washington with only 49 seconds left in regulation and looking like goners, the Bruins scrapped and gutted their way back, carving out a 79-73 can-you-believe-it victory in overtime against the Huskies. The takeaways from the wily turn of events are as follows:
Clutch (Again) Down the Stretch
After pulling off two come-from-behind wins on the road last week, the Bruins went for the hat trick with possibly the most impressive one of the three. And yet again, it was the uncanny ability to convert the critical plays with the clock ticking down.
Smack in the middle of it all were Rebekah Gardner and Mariah Williams. With her team down 65-62 at the 18-second mark of regulation, it was Gardner who got the steal off of a turnover by the Huskies' Jazmine Davis and took it all the way for the breakaway layup to make it a one-point game. The senior guard then attacked the basket again, slicing her way into the paint for another bucket with just two seconds left to essentially force overtime.
Enter Williams: Already, the junior guard had banked in a runner at the 2:40 mark of overtime for the 71-68 lead. Then, she went on to hit arguably the biggest shot of the night, nailing her third three-pointer with the shot clock expiring with 1:43 remaining to extend UCLA's lead to 74-68.
"I think that shot is actually the easiest, because everyone in the gym knows that the shot clock is running down," Williams said. "Whether it goes in or not, you just have to get that shot up really fast, though it's always exciting when the shot goes in."
All in all, Williams (11 points on 4-of-4 shooting) and Gardner (17) were just two of five Bruins scoring in double figures.
The full-court press proves deadly yet again
It's no coincidence that in each contest from their now three-game winning streak, the Bruins went to the press defense in the waning minutes to fuel each comeback. Indeed, it was because of the swarming, smothering defense applied by Williams and Markel Walker that Davis turned the ball over with 14 seconds left in regulation.
The Bruins actually showed press in spurts earlier in the game, but with less admirable results. Come crunch time, though, they were on-point.
"It's high risk, high rewards," Close said. "Toward the end of the game, we had to go to the full-court press; we had nothing to lose and there was no choice, so we had to go high risk. I'd like to see us get more into that situation where on dead balls and free throws, we're speeding people up and getting them out of rhythm."
These Bruins are learning and growing
Make no mistake, these wins hold significant weight where the Pac-12 race is concerned; UCLA is now tied for third place in the conference standings with USC at 6-4 (the Bruins are 11-10 overall).
But what Close will undoubtedly agree is going to pay dividends in the long run is the growth that is to be gleaned from the last three victories. Simply put, it's a matter of the Bruins proving to themselves that they have what it takes to win, even under, again, improbable circumstances. In the context of Thursday night, UCLA notched the win, despite being down by seven with less than a minute remaining in the game, and despite Washington's Regina Rogers going off for 21 points and 12 rebounds.
"These players are showing that they have something inside of them," Close said. "When their backs are against the wall, they come out swinging, and that says a lot for who they are. It is the only way we can win; it's that grit coming out that says, 'I will do whatever it takes - as unconventional as it might be - to figure it out and come out swinging.' And as a coach, I couldn't be any more proud of that."