Opponent: UC Irvine (3-6)
When: 7:00 PM PST, Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Live Stream
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
IT'S GAMEDAY!!! Bring two canned foods to tonight's game for free admission (benefiting the LA Regional Foodbank). pic.twitter.com/vXoIwLT07v— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) December 16, 2015
Last week was a good week for UCLA basketball. Steve Alford's team picked up a big victory against #20 Gonzaga in the Bruins first true road game of the season, and a day later, Coach Cori Close's squad earned an 86-77 win against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. As a result, both teams are currently ranked in the latest AP Poll top-25.
UCLA Women's Basketball (5-2) will try to extend its modest two-game winning streak tonight against UC Irvine (3-6) tonight. The Anteaters three wins have come against three basketball lightweights: Southern Utah, Nevada, and San Diego Christian.
Surprisingly, the Bruins and the Anteaters have a common opponent this season--St. John's. UCLA beat St. John's by 15, while UC Irvine lost by 22. That puts into perspective pretty well how tonight's contest should play out. UCLA has vastly superior talent and has far more experience against tough competition. There's a real possibility that tonight's game could be effectively over by halftime.
Unfortunately, that's not the kind of game that Coach Close's team needs right now. Eleven days ago, the Bruins played their worst game of the season against Cal State Bakersfield. UCLA won by 14, but the Bruins played sloppy, undisciplined basketball. UCLA finished with more turnovers than assists, which was reminiscent of the immature basketball too often on display in 2014-15.
I hope that Coach Close uses tonight's game against the Anteaters as an opportunity to give some of her lesser-used players significant playing time. For example, sophomore forward Lajahna Drummer is finally back after an early season injury, and she needs as many minutes as she can handle to get up to speed. Freshman forward Ashley Hearn has struggled to make an impact so far this season, but she's a terrific talent that can make important contributions to this team if given the chance to develop. Sophomore Paulina Hersler needs more minutes too, as does Kelli Hayes. This is the chance for those players to step up.
The two Bruins I'll be watching most closely tonight are freshmen Ashley Hearn and Kennedy Burke. Burke has been fantastic so far. She has quick hands on defense, rebounds extremely well for a guard, and has proven to be a good perimeter scoring threat. Although Hearn has been slow to find her feet in collegiate basketball, the scouting report on her indicates that she's a tenacious rebounder and a strong defender, which is exactly what UCLA needs when Monique Billings is on the bench.
The Pac-12 is incredibly strong this season, so the Bruins need to be fully prepared for a tough slate of conference games starting two weeks from today. That means having everyone ready. Tonight's contest against UC Irvine and Friday's game against Sacramento State are probably the last real opportunities for Coach Close to give her bench players court time to develop. Let's hope that they get their chance tonight and make the most of it.