Clear waters, dreamy clouds and near-eternal sunshine.
It’s the kind of paradisiacal setting that distinguishes the state of Hawaii, where the UCLA women’s basketball team has been staying for the past several days in preparation for the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Shootout, hosted by the University of Hawai’i.
But these days, even the Hawaiian sunshine may dim in comparison to how well the No. 9 Bruins (8-0) have been performing so far.
No Bruin team has gotten off to such a hot start since the 1980-1981 season, when the Bruins went 12-0 to begin the year. And the No. 9 ranking is the highest since the 1999-2000 campaign, when UCLA was at one point ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll.
“I think this team has positioned itself to receive a national ranking, and I think the players have done a great job in coming together as a unit,” coach Nikki Caldwell said. “We’ve been getting a lot of minutes for our younger players, giving us that depth that we have to sustain, especially when we get into Pac-10 play, so I’m excited for where we’re at.”
Freshmen Thea Lemberger and Corinne Costa have certainly gotten respectable playing time on a fairly veteran team. Lemberger, a guard, is averaging more than 10 minutes a game, while Costa, a center, is playing just less than eight minutes on average. In the Bruins’ second-to-last game on Dec. 5 against Montana State, both players logged season-highs in minutes; Lemberger had two steals and an assist in 19 minutes, while Costa put up six points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes.
But depth aside, UCLA has begun to excel at pressuring the ball on defense. In their 75-59 win over St. Mary’s on Dec. 12, the Bruins forced the Gaels into committing 33 turnovers and consequently feasted on the mistakes, scoring a whopping 40 points off turnovers.
Needless to say, the Bruins seem committed to anchoring their defense on applying pressure.
“Our ability to defend 94 feet and force turnovers in the backcourt is a strength of ours, and it leads to easier transition baskets for us,” Caldwell said. “We have to have those forced turnovers, and we’ve definitely got to be able to capitalize on them. It’s something that we’ve been working on and will continue to work on as part of our game plan.”
Up first for UCLA is a 9 p.m. tip-off against the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (4-4) on Sunday. After starting their season having won four of their first five games, the Wahine are currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak, making it all the more likely that they will come out firing as the designated home team.
“(Hawai’i) is a team that can shoot the three, put the ball on the floor and can pressure as well,” Caldwell said. “They’ll be ready to compete, and we’ve just got to be able to match their intensity and continue to stay with what we do best, which begins and ends with our guard play. Our guards will be key in setting the tempo, and then our post game will handle itself.”
The Bruins return to action for the second game of a back-to-back against East Carolina (4-5) on Monday.