Opponent: Michigan (7-1)
When: 11:00 AM PST, Sunday, December 13, 2015
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Big Ten Network
Live Stats: GoBlue GameTracker
Finals are finally over, which means that UCLA Women's Basketball is away from southern California today for its first true road test of the season. The 20th-ranked Bruins are in Ann Arbor for a rematch of last season's WNIT semifinal contest with the Michigan Wolverines (7-1).
The Bruins won last year's battle, 69-65, but it's a much different Wolverine squad that UCLA will face today. Three of Michigan's four top scorers from that game are gone. Of those four, only 5'7" sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty returns; she leads the Wolverines with a 21.8 points/game average. Two other Michigan starters are averaging over 10 points per game: 5'7" junior guard Siera Thompson (10.3 points/game), and 6'5" freshman center Hallie Thome (10.9 points/game).
In spite of not being a particularly tall team, the Wolverines have rebounded well this season. Michigan's leading rebounder is 5'11" sophomore forward Jillian Dunston (6.8 boards/game). Senior forward Kelsey Mitchell (6'0") is one of the Wolverines' better rebounders even though she sees limited playing time off the bench.
Although Michigan doesn't have great size or depth in the frontcourt, it has plenty of options in the backcourt. 5'10" senior Madison Ristovski, 5'11" freshman Nicole Munger, and 5'6" freshman Boogie Brozoski all play meaningful minutes and all shoot well from the perimeter. In fact, Michigan is incredibly dangerous from behind the three-point line--the Wolverines are shooting .397 as a team from beyond the arc.
Like the Bruins, the Wolverines are good at applying on-ball pressure and generating turnovers. And like the Bruins, the Wolverines don't have a good track record of taking care of the ball.
Unlike the Bruins, the Wolverines haven't played a ranked opponent yet. In fact, Michigan has played an incredibly soft schedule so far. The Wolverines have put up a lot of points, but it's less impressive when you consider that many of those big wins have come against teams like Binghamton, USC Upstate, and Hartford. Michigan's sole loss came against Princeton (74-57)--not exactly one of women's college basketball powerhouses.
By way of comparison, UCLA's two losses have been to #2 South Carolina (68-65) and #3 Notre Dame (92-84 in overtime).
UCLA returns to Ann Arbor with most of its squad intact from last season. The Bruins' three leading scorers from last year's game--Jordin Canada, Nirra Fields, and Kari Korver--are all back. The changes for UCLA are in the frontcourt. Sophomore forward Monique Billings and senior Kacy Swain are the new starters up front, and they are more athletic and dynamic than the players that they've replaced. Billings and Swain lead the Bruins in rebounding at 8.8 boards/game and 7.8 boards/game, respectively.
Although the Bruins won comfortably (82-68) against CSU Bakersfield in their last outing, the Bruins didn't look sharp. In fact, in the game thread, I commented several times that the Bruins had reverted to the sloppy play that characterized far too many of their games last season. UCLA finished with 19 turnovers, which simply isn't good enough, especially against lesser competition. To her credit, Coach Close was forthcoming about her disappointment with the Bruins' performance. We'll see today if Coach Close got her message across to the team.
This is exactly the kind of game that the Bruins need to win if they are going to take a step forward this season. Good teams win on the road. Good teams beat opponents of Michigan's quality.
The Bruins will have to close out on Michigan's guards. The Wolverines have flourished by relying on perimeter shots. If UCLA isn't effective in extending its defense today, the Bruins will be playing to Michigan's strength, and it may end up being a rematch with an unhappy ending.