UCLA Women's Basketball at the Junkanoo Jam
Opponent: #3 Notre Dame (5-0)
When: 12:15 PM PST, Saturday, November 28, 2015
Where: St. Georges High School Gym, Freeport, Bahamas
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: GameTracker
The opening round of games at the Junkanoo Jam went as expected: UCLA beat Louisiana Tech comfortably, 68-57, and Notre Dame drubbed Denver, 94-52. Those results advanced the two tournament heavyweights to the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division Championship game.
This afternoon's contest against the Fighting Irish will be a good indicator of the Bruins' progress since last season. Eleven months ago, Notre Dame was ranked fourth when it visited Pauley Pavilion, and the Fighting Irish knocked off the Bruins with relative ease. Notre Dame hit 9-12 three pointers that day, and in fact, shot the ball well from the perimeter throughout the season, so the Bruins probably won't be successful employing a lot of zone today.
The Fighting Irish return a strong group of players from last year's squad. Senior guard Michaela Mabrey is back, but it's her sister, freshman guard Marina Mabrey who has been one of the team's most important players so far this season. Marina Mabrey is one of four players with a double-digit scoring average; she is averaging 12.0 points/game, and leads the Fighting Irish in steals. Sophomore forward Brianna Turner leads Notre Dame in scoring (14.3 points/game), rebounding (6.8 rebounds/game), and blocks (3.75 blocks/game). Graduate student Madison Cable leads the Fighting Irish backcourt in scoring with a 13.6 points/game average, and junior point guard Lindsay Allen leads the team in assists (5.6 assists/game). Sophomore forward Kathryn Westbeld is the other primary frontcourt scoring option; she averages 12.2 points/game and is the second-leading rebounder.
Notre Dame will present some matchup problems for the Bruins. UCLA plays without a true center, and Coach Close prefers to use a three-guard lineup. However, the Fighting Irish frequently play either three forwards or two forwards and a center, so with the Bruins frontline a bit thin at the moment, Coach Close may have to ask guards Kelli Hayes and Kennedy Burke to match up defensively with a forward.
Aside from fatigue issues, the Bruins are well-prepared for the challenge of playing a top-5 team. Although they are just four games into the 2015-16 campaign, the Bruins have already played three top-40 teams and a top-5 team (#2 South Carolina). And with the exception of freshmen Ashley Hearn and Kennedy Burke, each of the players in Coach Close's rotation had the experience of playing multiple games against top-5 competition last year. The Bruins may be young, but they don't lack experience.
If the Bruins can find generate some perimeter scoring today, this should be a competitive game. But that's a big if. UCLA has not shot well from three-point range so far this season (31.5%), which has really hurt the Bruins in their half court offense. Also, to beat elite teams, you have to hit free throws, but the Bruins are shooting just 63.1% from the charity stripe. That won't get the job done against a quality opponent like Notre Dame.
I suspect that few UCLA fans will see this game since it conflicts with the UCLA-Southern Cal football game this afternoon. It's a shame that the schedule worked out that way since UCLA Women's Basketball deserves more attention. The team has played consistently well so far this season, which is more than I can say for Steve Alford's team.
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