The crosstown rivalry on Saturday featured multiple sequences that epitomized UCLA women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell’s coaching philosophy. And plenty were present to watch.
On one second-half defensive possession, redshirt sophomore forward Atonye Nyingifa and senior guard Doreena Campbell trapped the Women of Troy’s Ashley Corral. Pinned in the backcourt, the USC guard jumped to fling the ball down court in desperation. But Nyingifa smacked it down, and Campbell ““ a guard with a slight frame ““ lowered her shoulder and powered her way inside for two points.
On the next possession, USC pushed the ball the other way to avoid the trap, and seemingly found a crease in the lane until Markel Walker met the shot at its apex, viciously beating the layup attempt into the powder-blue baseline.
The swattage sent the Pauley Pavilion faithful into a crescendo of cheers.
“This is my second time playing ‘SC, and it is a town rivalry,” Nyingifa said. “We are playing for L.A., who’s going to be the champion of L.A.; it is the whole community that we are playing for.”
This community also included a heavy dosage of local elementary and middle school students partaking in UCLA’s I’m Going to College program.
“This program is very important for the city of Los Angeles, since we are the public university in this community,” UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said. “We’ve been committed to it for many, many years. Just to see the number of people that are here (Saturday) supporting women’s basketball is fantastic.”
During halftime, many students ran onto the court to take in the festive atmosphere.
“To have the kids out there and getting involved is really what it is all about,” Guerrero said. “This goes hand in hand with our commitment to service, which is very important to us.”
Saturday was clearly a statement of commitment for the No. 12 Bruins (13-1, 3-0 Pac-10). Though UCLA couldn’t hit many open jumpers, the defense held stringently; the Trojans shot an abysmal 28 percent from the field.
The student section was full for the first time, and it expended much of its collective energy berating a flustered USC squad.
Sharpshooters Corral and Jacki Gemelos weren’t able to find their rhythm until the outcome was decided, as the Women of Troy weren’t able to get into their halfcourt sets until 20 seconds into the shot clock.
Briana Gilbreath, who went into the game as USC’s leading scorer, finished 0-for-12 shooting, with freshman guard Rhema Gardner and Nyingifa splitting defensive duty.
“This team knows that our identity, what is going to give us that longevity throughout the season, is defense and board play,” Caldwell said.
Some teams may be able to shoot better than the Bruins, but they certainly can’t defend like the Bruins.
And if the rest of the conference ““ and perhaps even the surrounding community ““ has downplayed UCLA’s ascension to the elite, the Bruins certainly provided fair warning on Saturday.