The mood surrounding the UCLA women’s basketball team could be described in a few words.

Time to put up or shut up.

And the Bruins (14-6, 7-2 Pac-10) will get their chance to put up this weekend when they travel to take on No. 2 Stanford tonight and then head to Berkeley to take on Cal on Saturday, in what could be two of the Bruins’ most crucial games on the season.

But first things first “¦ the Cardinal.

Stanford (19-1, 9-0) is undefeated in Pac-10 play and has only lost one game all season. But the last time the Bruins took on the Cardinal, they certainly did not wilt under pressure. After trailing by 16 at halftime, UCLA clawed all the way to within two points with fewer than ten seconds to go. However, the Bruins still came up short, dropping that game 65-61.

But according to UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell, her team learned a lot from that first game against the Cardinal, lessons she hopes her team can apply in their second matchup with the crimson and white.

“Our style is predicated on our defensive influence and I didn’t think that the first game we did that necessarily against Stanford,” Caldwell said after Tuesday’s practice. “I thought we played on our heels and they executed their offense. We also got to look at being a better offensive team. Our shot selection was not the best. We were shooting off-balance, contested shots. Airballs.”

But the first game definitely proved to be a tale of two halves. In the first half, Stanford shot 46 percent from the field as opposed to 25 percent shooting for the Bruins. But in the second half, UCLA was able to clamp down on defense as well as improve on the offensive end. The Bruins shot a blistering 59 percent from the field, while the Cardinal shot only 28 percent from the field.

Unfortunately, one half of good basketball was not enough to take down the Cardinal, who come into Thursday’s game still occupying the No. 2 ranking in the country.

“We’re really putting a lot of emphasis on us practicing at the level of intensity we need to practice at, so we can maintain that type of intensity for 40 minutes,” Caldwell said.

It seems like “play for 40 minutes” has been a consistent slogan of Caldwell’s over the course of the season, so much that even her players have adopted their coach’s favorite phrase.

“I’m looking for my team to go out there and give it all and play the whole 40 minutes,” sophomore guard Jasmine Dixon said. “Like Coach said, we haven’t been able to play 40 minutes the whole season yet. I’m hoping this is the beginning of playing 40-minute games for us.”

And when asked what she expected out of her team this weekend, freshman standout Markel Walker reiterated the thoughts of her coach and teammate, saying that she expects her team to be able to put together two 40-minute performances over the next three days.

“I expect the same, a 40-minute game, and everybody just bringing their game and bringing what they do best to the table, and hopefully we come out on top,” Walker said.

Coincidentally, if the Bruins hope to come out on top twice this weekend, 40 minutes of “bringing their game” may be exactly what UCLA needs from Dixon and Walker, especially on Thursday when they will presumably match up with Stanford’s Jayne Appel and Nnemkadi Ogwumike, two of the nation’s top players.

But Caldwell is confident that the Bruins scout team, comprised of about 13 guys, will have served its purpose come Thursday in preparing the Bruins for the inside presence that is Appel and Ogwumike.

“Our scout team does a good job “¦ of representing the opponent,” Caldwell said. “Jayne [Appel] and [Nnemkadi] Ogwumike are two of the best post players in the country. So some of our scout guys, we’re going one-on-one with them and showing rotation.”

As far as Cal goes, Thursday through Saturday may prove to be even bigger for the Bears than for the Bruins.

UCLA is currently tied for second place in the Pac-10 standings with their rival Women of Troy, both teams sitting two games behind the mighty Cardinal. But Cal (11-9, 5-4) is sitting tied for fourth place, two games behind UCLA and USC.

If the Golden Bears are able to defend their home court and defeat both Los Angeles schools, they could climb into a tie for second place as well. And Caldwell is sure the Bears will have revenge on their mind after suffering a 57-46 loss earlier in the season at Pauley Pavilion.

“Looking at Cal, I think it’s going to be a battle,” Caldwell said. “They’re a scrappy team, and they really came and got after us here. I like their intensity on the defensive end and we’ve got to match that.”

And leading Cal is senior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson, who not only leads the Bears, but leads the Pac-10 in scoring, dropping in 24 points per game. That says nothing of her 47-point outburst at Oregon State on Jan. 23, followed by a 39-point night against Arizona on Jan. 28.

“With Gray-Lawson, that’s a kid you’ve got to have limited touches,” Caldwell said. “So we’ve been really working on denial and if she’s free, then automatic switches. But you try to maintain what your system and what your philosophy is no matter who you play.”