Bumped from our fanposts. Great notes. - BN Eds.
As you all already know, UCLA has a HUGE weekend coming up on the hardwood. Two HUGE games against the Bay Area schools, with the top spot in the Pac-12 potentially up for grabs. And those games are not happening in the Bay Area, but instead in Westwood, as the well-coached, hard-working women's team is taking on #6 Cal and #4 Stanford.
The ladies (19-4, 12-2) have pretty clearly demonstrated they can hang with almost anybody in the country. They played Notre Dame tough while missing their starting point guard (Thea Lemberger). They beat Oklahoma on the road and played a tight game against Cal in the Bay Area. Oh and by the way they hold themselves to properly high standards, allowing them to lay the hammer down on overmatched Pac-12 opponents like Utah:
UCLA had the game under control from the start, racing to a 14-1 lead as the Utes missed all eight of their field-goal attempts and committed nine turnovers. Utah didn't score its first basket until Plouffe's layup at 11:19.
"They were pressing and trapping us," Plouffe said. "They're so athletic. We didn't handle it very well. In their half-court defense they were switching everything. It ws hard for me to get it inside or outside because nobody was open."
The Bruins extended their lead to 25-5, with Jasmine Dixon and Brewer scoring four points each and Kari Korver hitting a 3-pointer. They shot 44 percent in the half and led 34-16 at the break.
"We wanted to hold them to 30 points the whole game," Fields said.
Clearly, Stanford and Cal (especially Stanford) are different beasts. The last time the women pulled off the upset of the Cardinal was in 2006, when they won the Pac-10 tournament title. Since then, it has been an uphill struggle for UCLA and the rest of the conference to even come close to the Cardinal. However, the Bruins did beat Cal last year, even with an injury-riddle squad that at times only had seven scholarship players and was missing three of its best players due to injury or redshirts. And the Bruins have started to close the size and athleticism gap that used to be there, starting the same sizable, athletic lineup ever since the Utah game.
For as much as many (justifiably) criticize the men at times for their effort, lack of coaching, and inability to pull away from lesser teams, the women cannot be lauded enough for the way they play ball. Although Coach Cori Close has not yet closed the gap between UCLA and Stanford, it has tightened considerably, and there is a chance that this weekend can be the big step they need.
If any of you have not had the opportunity to see this team play and want to see a real effort being put forward, this weekend would be a great time to do it. This is one of the teams that deserves support wherever they can get it. I don't want to preach to anyone or try to claim this team deserves your respect more than other teams. But as someone who has followed this team almost as long as I have followed the men's team, I did want to highlight their accomplishments thus far before they come up against their toughest, and likely most important, two game stretch of the season. We play well at home, and although Stanford and Cal have weapons, so do we. I don't think winning both games this weekend is out of the question.
In wrapping up, I want to say one thing about Coach Close that makes me feel excited for the future of the program. She reveres and learned from Coach. Any coach that respects THE Coach the way Close does should be applauded. And the way she took heart, and still takes heart to Coach Wooden's principles is something I only wish the TCGIC would do:
She is one of Coach's coaches now. An apostle of sorts.
One of so many coaches within the Bruins family and beyond who finally said "yes" when someone who had been there before invited them to meet Wooden and emerged forever changed by the experience.
"It's interesting," Close said. "Sometimes you have an experience and you just want to keep it to yourself, because then you can say you're the only one who experienced it.
"But you could never do that with Coach Wooden, because that would be so contradictory to what he believed. You felt this responsibility to share it."
Over the years, Close brought dozens of coaches to meet Coach. Now she can only bring them to his den.
It could never be as real as the man and his world, just as his books could never teach as well Wooden could from the gray chair in his living room.
Still, Coach's coaches feel they must try.
"I think what makes him so amazing is he has been so timeless," Close said. "His principles have stood the test over every sport and every generation. I just think when something works, when it's truth, then it lives on. That's why so many of us coaches feel so much responsibility to continue that."
And hopefully, Close's leadership brings the Bruins two victories this weekend.