#9 UCLA Women's Basketball (2-1, 0-0)
Opponent: Cal Poly (1-2, 0-0)
When: 1:00 PM PST, Sunday, November 20, 2016
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
After being overpowered by #2 Baylor to begin the week, UCLA bounced back on Friday with a 95-47 rout of Southern University. Of course, Southern lacks the size, physicality and talent of the Bears, so in Friday's contest against the Jaguars, it was a question of how, not if, the Bruins would win.
In that respect, the news is mixed. It was disappointing to see Coach Close again opt for a four guard starting lineup, a tactic that was largely responsible for Baylor's overwhelming rebounding and points in the paint advantage in UCLA's previous game. And although Coach Close allotted more court time to her three frontcourt players off the bench, neither freshman Ally Rosenblum nor sophomore Ashley Hearn got enough minutes to leave the impression that Coach Close recognizes the importance of developing bench depth. Given that the Bruins were up by 26 at halftime, it was the perfect opportunity to give extended court time to players that very well may need to play key roles in February and March. The fact that UCLA's two best players--Jordin Canada and Monique Billings--led the team in minutes (32 and 27, respectively) in a 48-point blowout suggests that Coach Close and her staff need to re-examine their priorities.
That said, there were plenty of positives from the game. Reserve guard Kennedy Burke led the Bruins with 23 points, and forward Paulina Hersler came off the bench to score 12. Guards Kelli Hayes and Nicole Kornet rebounded much better against Southern's small squad, and Rosenblum snagged 6 boards in just 12 minutes of action. UCLA shot well from the perimeter, going 14-25 from beyond the arc, including 5-6 by Burke. And the Bruins were aggressive defensively, collecting 16 steals and 6 blocks.
The headlines, though, focused on the play of Canada and Billings. Canada registered her first career triple double (11 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists), and Billings notched her fifth straight double double (22 points, 15 rebounds). But as good as Canada and Billings are, they can't carry the Bruins to a national championship without help, and that's why Coach Close and her staff need to focus more on how they will beat teams like Baylor and Connecticut in 2017 and less on achieving individual goals on a game-by-game basis.
While it is true that a handful of early season injuries have reduced Coach Close's options, it's also true that junior forward Lajahna Drummer and redshirt junior guard Dominique Williams were injured last season too. Therefore, Coach Close should understand the importance of developing squad depth. Early season games against weaker opponents--like today's matchup with Cal Poly--are good opportunities to prepare players for tougher battles ahead.
Unlike Southern, Cal Poly has decent size. Senior forward Hannah Gilbert (6'3") leads the Mustangs in scoring and rebounding, and is averaging a double double so far this season.
After two losses to begin the season, the Mustangs earned their first victory on Friday against Northern Arizona. The first of their losses was against Stanford, one of the teams expected to compete with the Bruins for the Pac-12 regular season title. The Mustangs lost to the Cardinal by 28 points.
This is a game that the Bruins should win comfortably. Hopefully Coach Close will encourage her squad to see the bigger picture and put aside personal goals for the game. As a disciple of Coach Wooden, Coach Close should remind her team of this Woodenism:
"The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."