#9 UCLA hosts the Bay Area schools this weekend at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA opened up with 14-10 Cal, a team that UCLA had won 4 in a row against, but always creates a defensive, grind it out style type of game. The game tonight was UCLA's annual "Pink Zone" game in honor of raising breast cancer awareness, as the team wore pink jerseys and shoes, and recent alumni Allison Taka and Erica Tukiainen handed out pink shirts to the fans in Pauley. Darxia Morris was also honored for passing the career 1,000 point mark during the Oregon trip by being presented with the gameball from the game it happened, much like Doreena Campbell earlier this season after the Notre Dame game. Despite the rain, a fairly supportive crowd of 1750 showed up, with hopefully sunday's match gaining a larger crowd. Unfortunately B D has other commitments this weekend and will not be able to provide pictures of the games.
The game opened up ugly for the Bruins, as UCLA committed 4 turnovers on their first 5 possessions. Turnovers plagued the Bruins in the first half, though UCLA played under better control in the 2nd. With the score tied at 2 at the first media timeout, Caldwell decided to put her bench in early to mix things up and see better offensive execution than the starters were showing. After blowing the big lead at OSU, Nikki Caldwell had talked all week about the bench needing to step up and know their role and give the team the support they need, and step up they did. Coming out of the timeout, UCLA went on a 9-1 run over the next minute and a half to get an 11-3 lead. UCLA's lead in the first half got as large as 10 at 19-9, but then UCLA's offense went stagnant for 3 minutes as Cal cut the lead to 19-17 with 7 minutes left in the first half. Rebekah Gardner and Nina Earl off the bench helped keep the bruins in the lead, and a basket by Christina Nzekwe at the buzzer gave UCLA a 29-21 halftime lead, as the bench outscored the starters 16-13 in the first half. For the half, UCLA shot 40% to 33% for the Bears.
In the second half, Darxia Morris started to hit shots after a quiet first half as UCLA pulled away. With UCLA holding on to a 9 point lead at the first media timeout of the 2nd half, UCLA blew the game open with a 13-2 run over the next 6 minutes, and with 10 minutes left in the game, UCLA was sitting on a 50-30 lead. From there, the starters spent much of the time on the bench as Nikki got the bench players on the court. What was a little different was that instead of Nikki putting all the starters on the bench like she normally does, she would keep 2 starters in the game with 3 bench players and rotate to allow a stabilizing presence always be present on the court, as UCLA's lead never dipped below 13 points from that point on. The only real concern one would have watching the game is that while the bench players defensively played solidly, the freshmen and Mariah are not reliable shooters which is fine for now, but will hurt the Bruins next season if they don't improve. UCLA closed out to a 63-48 victory shooting an improved 45% in the second half to a weaker 29% second half performance from the bears.
Despite Cal making a clear effort to crash the boards hard against the Bruins, UCLA won the rebounding battle 41-31, though Cal had great success crashing the offensive boards, getting 14, though UCLA limited them to only 6 second chance points. In a very sloppy game, UCLA turned the ball over 27 times taking awful care of the ball in the first half, while Cal turned the ball over 26 times taking awful care of the ball in the second half. UCLA shot a pretty decent 3-7 from behind the arc and 10-12 from the freethrow line, 2 usual deficiencies of the team, while Cal was a cold 3-16 from behind the arc. Though the younger bench players need to step it up offensively (and boy do they), the older bench players provided solid support, as UCLA's bench outscored Cal's 28-7.
Leading the Bruins off the bench was Rebekah Gardner with 16 points, going perfect from 3 and from the freethrow line on the night. Darxia Morris, who was sloppy with the ball in the first half (finished with 6 turnovers) played a much stronger 2nd half and finished with 10 points. Jasmine Dixon had only 8 points but a team leading 9 rebounds. Markel Walker had only 6 points and continues to throw maddening passes that sail out of bounds, but if you can forgive her turnovers, she played with fire on the defensive end, constantly giving up her body to absorb contact, dive for loose balls, and generally was all over the floor today hustling and doing the little things that don't show up in the box score.
With the win, UCLA improves to 22-2, 12-1 on the season, and now the big showdown occurs on Sunday against #3 Stanford. Tonight, Stanford played across town, with SC playing tough for the first half being down only 2 at half, but Stanford pulled away for a 78-64 victory. Stanford is 1 game up on the Bruins and undefeated in conference play, while UCLA hasn't lost a pac-10 home game since Stanford last came visiting. The key to the game, in my opinion, will be the play of Doreena Campbell and Darxia Morris. With Stanford's clear size advantage inside, they always look to shut down Jasmine Dixon and Markel Walker. When UCLA almost upset the Cardinal at Pauley last season, it is because Darxia and Doreena were hitting jumpers all around the court, so they could be key to sunday's matchup. The game is at noon and will be televised on FSN, but if you are in the area, this is the game to go to. With dance marathon going on at the same time, student/band attendance will be lower, so it's up to the alumni to make up for the missed fan support and noise in a big BIG home game.