In the past few weeks, the Connecticut and Stanford women’s basketball teams have garnered national attention ““ the Huskies for reeling off a record-breaking 90-game winning streak, the Cardinal for bringing that run to an end.
But the way the Bruins have been playing so far this season, they seem adamant in their desire to become a part of the elite echelon.
With the first loss of the season out of their system, the Bruins took a trip to the state of Washington to open up Pac-10 play, and they quickly reverted back to their winning ways.
No. 8 UCLA (12-1, 2-0 Pac-10) used a relentless second-half defense along with some offensive punch from the bench for a come-from-behind 60-48 victory against Washington (5-6, 0-2) on Friday. The Bruins then followed up with an 80-55 drubbing over Washington State (2-12, 0-2) on Sunday to kick-start the new year in a promising direction.
“I’m looking forward to the team taking the next step in our season, and obviously that is Pac-10 play,” coach Nikki Caldwell said. “(UConn) is an established program, as well as Stanford, and we’re a program that is trying to get to where they are at. We’re making strides to be the best that we can be and make sure that we’re getting the most out of our talent.”
UCLA looked sluggish for most of Friday’s game, shooting just 39.6 percent from the field for the afternoon. At one point, the Bruins were down by as many as eight points in the second half, trailing 36-28 after a three from the Huskies’ Kristi Kingma with 17:20 left in the game.
But junior guard Rebekah Gardner, coming off the bench for the first time this season, scored 10 of her team-high 15 points in the second period, freshman center Corinne Costa chipped in with eight points on four-of-five shooting, and the Bruin defense held the opposition to 28.6 percent shooting after halftime while forcing the Huskies into 25 turnovers for the game.
“Coach Nikki has talked to us about sharing the ball more, and with us doing that, it establishes both an inside attack and an outside attack,” Gardner said. “By moving the ball around, it just made it easier for me to get open shots. Usually, I’m not left open with all those shots, so (ball movement) helped out a lot.”
Come Sunday, the Bruins did away with the Cougars quickly. UCLA held a 32-23 lead after the first half before starting the second half on a 15-2 run to extend the margin to 47-25. Three players had 12 points apiece for the Bruins, including senior guard Darxia Morris, who followed up her one-for-seven field-goal shooting on Friday by draining all six of her shots on Sunday.
“This weekend, we had a very challenging game with Washington,” Caldwell said. “Our lack of intensity at times defensively caused us to break down, but this team came back (Sunday) and did a much better job of taking care of the ball.”
Friday marked the last homecoming for senior forward Christina Nzekwe, a native of Seattle, who had a chance to catch up with friends and family after the game.
Not that there was much quality time spent at home.
“I was home last week, so I was good,” Nzekwe said. “My mom was like, “˜I already got to see you last week.’”
Lemberger day to day
Freshman guard Thea Lemberger has missed the last six games with a right shin injury and is listed as day to day, according to Caldwell.
The former Santa Monica High star appeared in six of the seven games before the injury, averaging 10.2 minutes per game.