Tonight, 7 p.m.
After a season that ended with a push into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the UCLA women’s basketball team is back in action.
But even with the daunting thought of improving on last year’s performance and an ominous schedule on the horizon, the mood during practice inside Pauley Pavilion was one of measured excitement.
“It’s really relaxed because we’re excited and we’ve been practicing hard,” senior guard Darxia Morris said. “Everybody knows that all this work we put in is going to show in the game.”
The No. 15 Bruins will open their season tonight at home in an exhibition game against Vanguard. Because the game does not mean much in terms of wins and losses, the Bruins are simply using tonight’s match as a building block.
“What we hope to accomplish is to see all the work we’ve been doing in preseason and see how we can gauge ourselves and see where we’re at,” coach Nikki Caldwell said, “I hope for us to take the drill work that we’ve been doing here in practice, and now really apply it to a game situation.”
Part of the Bruins’ success from last season can be attributed to their defense. A focus on ball pressure resulted in the Bruins holding their opponents to a measly 37 percent from the field over the stretch of the 2009-2010 season. This year, there is no need for the Bruins to try and change up their effective game plan.
“The main thing is defense; pressuring the ball for 94 feet,” Morris said.
Usually, any team that is just about to start a season has some problems with chemistry. And while there is undoubtedly still some offseason rust to shake off, the Bruins should not have to spend a lot of time worrying about when that moment will come.
Ten players, most of whom saw significant amounts of playing time on the court with one another, are returning from last season’s team.
The Bruins will have their leaders in scoring, rebounds and assists from last season on the court tonight with the return of junior forward Jasmine Dixon, sophomore forward Markel Walker and Morris, respectively.
Friday’s practice certainly had a lot to do with basketball, but what Caldwell decided to end the day with was something different.
The importance of understanding each other’s teammates has been an early mantra for Caldwell’s squad. In one of the last practices before tonight’s season opener, the coach used the time to tell her players that they need to be in tune with each other and be there to back each other up if they are to be successful.
The team seems to be buying in to this attitude.
“Sometimes, times get tough for certain people and other people have to come together. … It builds a stronger trust and a stronger bond,” senior guard Doreena Campbell said. “It’ll show on the court and make our game better.”