The UCLA Bruins women’s basketball team notched a big win on Wednesday night, closing out San Diego State 78-71.
The victory over the Aztecs was big because it is the Bruins’ (4-2) best win of the season so far. It was also big, literally””mdash;San Diego State (4-2) was physically the bigger team, in both height and bulk.
That figures to be a common theme this season for the Bruins, but UCLA isn’t””mdash;and can’t be””mdash;intimidated.
“Well, I’m used to it. I’ve been playing against players that are way huger than me since I was two years old.” junior guard Mariah Williams said. Williams stands a scant 5’4″ tall, and again found herself playing a taller opponent, often drawing the assignment of defending SDSU’s top scorer, 6’0″ junior guard Courtney Clements.
“It’s like [redshirt junior Atonye Nyingifa] said, if you want, you’re tougher, you want it more than them, then it doesn’t matter about size.”
Nyingifa is one of UCLA’s captains and she has set the tone thus far this season for the Bruins. The redshirt junior had another big game in Wednesday’s win, scoring a career high 21 points to go along with her 11 rebounds, a team high on the night.
“I wasn’t aware (of the career high in points), I’m just trying to do my part and help the team in any way I can,” Nyingifa said. “My teammates made it a lot easier on me by finding me on the court. I don’t really count the points, but if it helps the team, that’s good.”
The other common storyline for this UCLA squad is that of their depth””mdash;specifically, an utter lack of it. Injuries have reduced the Bruins’ active rotation to seven players, meaning opponents will try to wear down UCLA and force them into mistakes.
SDSU’s strategy was no different tonight, as they used 11 players against UCLA and played a physical game on both offense and defense. The plan was effective, as the Bruins appeared tired and made several uncharacteristic mistakes.
“That’s how the game is going to be played in March,” coach Cori Close said. “We might as well get used to it. We’re going to have to learn to match physicality … If you’re not willing to step up and punch back, then you’re not gonna be playing in March. So let’s learn it in November, and have a fun year.”
Physicality is a double-edged sword, of course, and the Aztecs felt keenly the back end of their hardnosed game. The Bruins took 34 shots from the foul line, and scored 24 points on those free point opportunities.
“We got in the free throw advantage pretty early, so our gameplan changed,” Williams said. “That was key for us, to just keep attacking and getting to the free throw line.”
The Bruins did everything necessary to pull out a win against a tough Aztecs team””mdash;rebounding, hitting shots, playing tough defense, and taking care of the ball. Putting together consistent efforts like this with a short bench is be a tall order, but it is not one the Bruins are shying away from.