Opponent: UC Riverside (6-6)
When: 7:00 PM PST, Monday, December 28, 2015
Where: Student Recreation Center, Riverside, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: SideArmStats
The last time we checked in with UCLA Women's Basketball, the 19th-ranked Bruins were heading to the Bay Area for a nonconference tilt with the 21st-ranked California Golden Bears. Unfortunately, for the third time this season, UCLA lost against a ranked opponent. But once again, the Bruins were within three points or less at the end of regulation. This time, it took two overtimes before the Bruins succumbed; the final score was 108-104 (2 OT).
While I don't want to over-emphasize the pattern the Bruins have developed against top teams, it has to be mentioned. Against #2 South Carolina, UCLA came up just short, losing 68-65. Against #3 Notre Dame, the Bruins were tied at the end of regulation, before being outpaced in overtime. I hesitate to draw conclusions from just three games, but the Bruins won't go far this season if they can't beat ranked teams--the Pac-12 is full of ranked teams.
On the other hand, UCLA (7-3) has had solid, comfortable wins against all of its other opponents. That fact inevitably leads to a question about tonight's game against UC Riverside: is there any real value in playing a team like the Highlanders with a tough Pac-12 schedule starting this week with games on Wednesday and Saturday?
On balance, I think playing a tune-up game this week is probably beneficial. The Bruins open the Pac-12 season against Southern Cal (26th in the latest AP Poll) and Oregon (31st). Both games are at home. Tonight's game should give UCLA a chance to be ready to fire on all cylinders on Wednesday without causing too much fatigue. Of course that means that it's up to Coach Close to manage her players minutes prudently. In particular, as I've written before, I'd like to see more minutes for Lajahna Drummer and Ashley Hearn. The Bruins will struggle to go far this season without significant contributions from Drummer and Hearn.
Furthermore, UC Riverside isn't a cupcake. The Highlanders lost by just six points against Cal, and they won by more points (20) against CSU Bakersfield than the Bruins did (14). However, more recently, the Highlanders were crushed by Washington 78-43, and lost to Oregon 95-81. Those were both road games, though; UC Riverside has been perfect (3-0) so far at home.
In other words, this should be a good, strong tune-up for the Bruins. It's not just a matter of stretching out and scrimmaging; if the Bruins don't concentrate and produce a good effort at both ends of the floor, the Highlanders can make the game very uncomfortable for UCLA. Tonight's game will be about focus, execution, and mental toughness as much as it is about defending, rebounding, running and scoring. UCLA needs to sharpen its performances. Tonight is the perfect opportunity to work on that.