Over the weekend, the UCLA women’s basketball team played two games that had the same result. Both turned out to be wins, but the style in which the games were played could not have been further apart from each other.
On Friday, the No. 15 Bruins (2-0) traveled south to face a San Diego State team (0-1) that made it to the regional section of the NCAA Tournament last year. Both teams had their share of shooting woes, but the Bruins did just enough to squeak out a 55-48 come-from-behind win.
The Bruin offense was nowhere to be found in the first half as the team shot 32.4 percent from the field and entered the second half trailing 32-24.
In order to turn things around and stymie the Aztec offense, head coach Nikki Caldwell had her defense press the ball the full length of the court. With the San Diego State offense in check, sophomore forward Markel Walker evened the score for the Bruins.
Walker scored six of her eight points in the first eight minutes of the second half and ignited the Bruin offense.
The full court press was something that carried over into Sunday’s match against UC Santa Barbara (0-2).
From the opening whistle, the Bruins swarmed the Gauchos and even made it difficult at times for them to get the ball across midcourt. The Gauchos attempted to play to the strength of their fast-tempo junior point guard Emilie Johnson, but the Bruin defense was locked in and effectively stopped the Gaucho fast-break. UCLA had 10 steals in the first half alone.
“For our team, (defense) is really where we get all our energy and intensity from. So we knew if we came out and turned it up on defense it would be a better half for us,” junior guard Rebekah Gardner said.
What was missing from the Bruins in the first half was any resemblance of a post game. It was a problem Caldwell addressed at halftime.
“I just basically asked the perimeter game, “˜Do they know the post game?’ We acted like we didn’t know them … you’ve got to make every effort to get the ball inside,” Caldwell said. “(UC Santa Barbara) was inviting our team to shoot jump shots and we fell for it.”
The Bruins quickly turned a 31-21 halftime lead into an insurmountable 14-point advantage by way of their bigs down low. UCLA emptied its bench and coasted to a 66-52 win.
Junior forward Jasmine Dixon and sophomore forward Markel Walker both led the team in scoring with 12 points apiece and combined for six assists.
Once the Bruins got the post game going, they opened up the floor for all kinds of open looks.
“If we beat the person off the dribble, then there had to be an open pass. I was just giving my teammates the ball so they can knock down shots,” Walker said.