#17 UCLA Women's Basketball (11-4, 3-1)
Opponent: Washington (11-4, 2-2)
When: 6:00 PM PST, Friday, January 15, 2016
Where: Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle, WA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UW StatBroadcast
The Bruins are no longer undefeated in conference play. On Sunday, UCLA lost to USC, 71-68, but the game wasn't as close as the final score suggests.
As expected, the Trojans played the kind of physical game that UCLA has struggled with in the past. A combination of terrific energy by Southern Cal and poor finishing by UCLA at the outset knocked the Bruins off their game plan. As the game wore on and UCLA's shots continued to be off the mark, the Bruins increasingly drifted away from sharing the ball. Instead, Jordin Canada and Nirra Fields wound up taking 56% of UCLA's shots, which played directly to the strength of USC's defensive scheme.
The Bruins shot just 23.7% in the first half and would have been down by more than three at halftime if not for USC's propensity to turn the ball over. UCLA rallied late to make the game close, but overall the game demonstrated that the Bruins have yet to develop the discipline that will see them through difficult stretches.
It doesn't get any easier for the Bruins tonight. UCLA gets its first true Pac-12 road test of the season against a good Washington Huskies team (11-4, 2-2) that features one of the nation's best players--junior guard Kelsey Plum. Plum leads the nation in scoring with a 27.3 points/game average. She also leads the Huskies in assists... and turnovers.
Although Plum is a tremendous scorer, she doesn't do a lot of damage from beyond the arc. In fact, even though the Huskies shoot a lot of threes, they're just average in their three-point shooting percentage. They are an exceptionally good free throw shooting team, however, and they have been getting to the charity stripe nearly 50% more often than their opponents.
Washington also has a pair of physical forwards to compliment Plum. Redshirt senior Talia Walton (6'2") and junior Chantel Osahor (6'2") average 17.1 and 11.4 points/game, respectively. Perhaps more importantly, they average 17 rebounds per game between the two of them. For UCLA to win tonight, the Bruins will have to keep these two physical forwards from giving the Huskies second and third chances on the offensive end.
Washington didn't play a particularly difficult nonconference schedule, but the fact that it has won two of its three Pac-12 road games so far is a good indication that this is a mature and mentally tough team. The Huskies lost their most recent game to ASU, 68-61, but the Sun Devils are one of the best teams in the nation at the moment.
If the Bruins take care of the ball tonight and revert to playing smart, team offense, they should be able to beat the Huskies. However, if the Bruins are careless in possession and don't do a good job of keeping Walton and Osahor off the boards, then the Bruins will struggle to get back to winning ways.
#2 UCLA Men's Volleyball (3-0)
Opponent: #4 UC Irvine (1-1)
When: 7:00 PM PST, Friday, January 15, 2016
Where: Bren Center, Irvine, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: UC Irvine Live Stream
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
2016 Media Guide: Not Available Yet (Thanks, Dan!)
The Bruins are flying high after a fantastic opening week. UCLA won three matches in four days on their east coast road trip. But that's not all: the wins came against three top-15 teams--#14 George Mason, #6 Ohio State, and #10 Penn State.
Even more impressive is the fact that Coach Speraw gave starts and/or significant playing time to some of his bench players in those matches. It's a reflection of Coach Speraw's philosophy of giving opportunities to all of his players and developing squad depth. If only Steve Alford had the same foresight and sense of responsibility to the student-athletes in his program.
Of course one of the main talking points from UCLA's opening games is the 6-0 system that Coach Speraw has the Bruins running this season. Freshman Micah Ma'a has been phenomenal as a setter/hitter, and his serving has been outstanding as well. Ma'a has a surprisingly mature game, and based on my early observations, I have to think that he will be a strong candidate for Freshman of the Year. He's that good.
Rather than previewing the Anteaters, I want to highlight a few comments by Coach Speraw in an interesting article in the Daily Bruin by Tanner Walters. Coach Speraw had this to say about how he is encouraging setters Hagen Smith and Micah Ma'a to learn to work effectively together:
"I think the most important thing for me is to let them create on their own, and give them some freedom to experiment and make mistakes and dialogue about it," Speraw said. "Both those guys have been around the game for a long time and they have fun with it. What I've seen is that the dialogue and discussion has allowed our team to even develop more creative options out of this particular offensive lineup."
Beyond just the court, though, the effects have infected the culture of the program.
"For me, it's actually been fun to watch a couple of pretty savvy volleyball players go out and create the game on their own," Speraw said. "And I think we have a lot of guys that have improved their overall volleyball IQ because of being in this type of environment."
That's the kind of environment that every student-athlete should want--an environment that encourages athletes to develop their understanding of the game as well as their individual skills.
The Bruins face an extremely stiff test tonight. UC Irvine is a very experienced and talented team. On a neutral court, the Anteaters may be the best team in the nation right now. But the Bruins are right there with them--what UCLA lacks in experience, it makes up for it in talent. From the Bruins' perspective, this probably isn't the ideal time to play the Anteaters in Irvine, but win or lose, the Bruins should learn a lot from this game. And if the Bruins keep learning and growing, they have an excellent chance of competing for the national championship at the end of the season.