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No. 11 UCLA starts off its last road trip of the season by playing Arizona today and Arizona State on Saturday.
A month ago, Stanford humbled the UCLA women’s basketball team in a 26-point drubbing.
But after that loss, the Bruins racked up seven consecutive victories.
Then came the rematch against the Cardinal on Sunday.
Instead of the embarrassment felt in Maples Pavilion, the resounding feeling among the Bruins from yet another loss to their conference rival was one of missed opportunity.
“We can’t take these games for granted,” redshirt sophomore forward Atonye Nyingifa said. “We had an opportunity to speak volumes to the rest of the country, but we missed it.”
This disappointment will have to serve as motivation for the No. 11 Bruins (22-3, 12-2 Pac-10) as they travel to the Arizona desert to face the Wildcats (16-9, 7-7) today and the Sun Devils (16-8, 8-6) Saturday.
“I think for this team, they have to understand that they have to play a team like Stanford for 40 minutes,” coach Nikki Caldwell said.
Not to slight the Arizona schools: Their seemingly mediocre conference records are somewhat misleading. Both teams hold intimidating 10-2 records playing at home.
“We have to be ready to go right when the ball is tipped,” Caldwell said. “They are going to be inspired.”
When the Wildcats visited Pauley Pavilion earlier this season, the Bruins were fortunate that Arizona’s senior forward Ify Ibekwe and sophomore guard Davellyn Whyte did most of their damage when UCLA already had a considerable lead.
Ibekwe had 18 points and three rebounds in that first meeting and was able to weave her way to the basket without much impediment.
“Ify has given them so many different looks both offensively and defensively,” Caldwell said. “Our defensive intensity has to be there, our board play has got to be there, and we have got to be patient and have ball (security) on the other end.”
Whyte, the second-leading scorer on the Wildcats, averages more than six 3-point attempts per game, while converting on 30 percent of those attempts. Whyte scored 14 in the previous matchup in Westwood.
Despite the tenacity of Ibekwe and Whyte, UCLA doubled up Arizona on the boards 48-24 in the January meeting, which allowed the Bruins to gain a 14-point cushion at the half.
“Defense wins championships, so the team at the end of the game with the most rebounds is usually the winner,” junior forward Jasmine Dixon said. “We just have to focus on boxing out.”
Dixon had 22 points and 9 rebounds in the 70-60 win, but Dixon isn’t the only one that has produced against the Wildcats this season.
Nyingifa grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds and added 11 points.
It is this statline and effort on the boards that Caldwell hopes will earn the Bruins postseason success, despite their lack of size down low.
“We (as a coaching staff) are putting our eyes on as many nonconference teams as we can, but our main focus as a team is to stay right here in the moment,” Caldwell said.
That focus should certainly help. If the Bruins were to run off another string of victories, it may very well be the Cardinal they face again in the Pac-10 Tournament.