#20 UCLA Women's Basketball (12-5, 4-2)
Opponent: California (10-7, 1-5)
When: 6:00 PM PST, Friday, January 22, 2016
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
The Bruins will battle the Golden Bears for the second time this season when UCLA (12-5, 4-2) and Cal (10-7, 1-5) tip-off at Pauley Pavilion this evening. California won the first meeting 108-104 in double overtime in what was a rare nonconference tilt between the two teams.
Of course it was a very different Golden Bears team that the Bruins played in December. Just a month ago, California was #21 in the AP Poll and was sporting an impressive 8-2 record. Conference play has not been kind to the Golden Bears, however. They opened the Pac-12 season with a pair of losses in Arizona, beat Colorado at home before losing to Utah two days later, and then lost another pair of games in Oregon. Worse still, California has been embarrassed in a couple of those losses, notably a 22 point drubbing by Oregon State, and a 29 point shellacking by Colorado.
Although the Bruins have been playing better than the Golden Bears since their previous encounter, UCLA has struggled in their last three games. A disappointing loss to USC was followed by a discouraging performance in Seattle against the Huskies which was followed by a narrow escape against the Cougars in Pullman.
UCLA's problems in recent games has been triggered by a shooting slump that has resulted in far too much individual offense from the Bruins' backcourt. The stats from those three games paint a pretty grim picture of an offense that isn't working:
UCLA's assist-to-turnover ratio in the last three games is well below 1, which is consistent with the frustrating pattern that the Bruins continue to fall into when their team offense sputters--ball movement is replaced by one-on-one basketball by Jordin Canada and Nirra Fields as they try to carry the offensive load themselves.
When teams lose confidence in their offense, it bleeds over to other areas of their game. Therefore, the fact that UCLA's defense has been subpar the last three games should come as no surprise. The defensive focus that has been such a big part of the Bruins' success this season hasn't been as consistent or sharp during the recent shooting slump.
One of the big positives coming out of the 75-73 win against the Cougars was the play of Monique Billings, Billings was a force on the offensive end, scoring 19 points on 7 of 11 shooting, and did a solid job on the glass with nine rebounds. Although Lajahna Drummer didn't put up big numbers against WSU, she was one of the very few bright spots over the last three games--her energy, grit and hustle kept the Bruins close against the Trojans and the Huskies.
Billings, Drummer, and Kacy Swain will have to be in good form this evening against the Golden Bears' formidable forwards. In the first meeting between the two teams, California got 71 points from its three forwards, including double-doubles from Courtney Range (29 points, 12 rebounds) and Kristine Anigwe (25 points, 10 rebounds). UCLA has to do a better job against that pair tonight. My preview of the first meeting between UCLA and California last month as more information about Cal's starters.
Although California is down right now, the Golden Bears are a very dangerous team, making this a critical game for the Bruins. UCLA is currently tied for fourth place with Stanford and Utah, two games behind Arizona State, a game behind Oregon State, and a half a game behind Washington. With a showdown against the Cardinal looming on Sunday, the Bruins desperately need to win tonight to stay in contention for the conference title. And with a difficult road trip to the Rockies to follow, UCLA needs to secure every win it can in a very strong, competitive Pac-12 conference this season.