The University of Iowa will be more than just the site of the UCLA women’s basketball team’s season opener on Friday. It will be a proving ground. The days of an easy non-conference slate are over.

Coach Nikki Caldwell, in her second year leading the program, will head to the Hawkeye State with her Bruins in search of a positive result away from Pauley Pavilion, something that didn’t happen very often a season ago.

“Last year, we didn’t play well on the road, and I want to put this team in a position to play at tough places,” Caldwell said. “When I came to UCLA, I looked at our schedule and knew that we have to play teams that are in the postseason and play them on the road.”

This weekend will provide the first of many chances for the Bruins to grab an important game away from home. As participants in the Hawkeye Challenge, UCLA will square off with Illinois State on Saturday.

The Bruins will play either Iowa or Santa Clara on Sunday. Coming off a lackluster effort in Monday night’s exhibition win over The Master’s College, point guard Doreena Campbell is looking for her team to improve defensively.

“To be honest, our defense wasn’t very good on Monday night,” Campbell said. “We allowed too many rebounds, and they took a lot of shots on the perimeter. We practiced defense for the whole practice (on Wednesday).”

For Caldwell, defense becomes particularly important when playing away from home, especially against tough opponents. Should UCLA win on Saturday, it would most likely face off with the hometown Iowa Hawkeyes, an NCAA Tournament team last season.

“I wanted our team to play tough games,” Caldwell said. “These are quality opponents that will prepare us for the Pac-10 and postseason play.”

The undersized Bruins will be looking for scoring from the guard position, anchored by the talented tandem of Campbell and Darxia Morris.

“I think with Darxia, we have a great scorer,” Caldwell said. “She’s done a great job in making those strides to be that kind of player.”