The final score of a game often does not tell the full story.
That was the case on Saturday afternoon, when the UCLA women’s basketball team (8-10, 3-4 Pac-12) fell to Oregon (11-9, 3-5), posting a final score of 83-62.
Yes, for much of Saturday, the game felt much worse than a 21-point defeat.
“The final score has nothing to do, for me, with whether or not I feel great about the way we prepare and the way we play,” coach Cori Close said.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the focus, the mentality, with the heart we showed in the first half, which obviously set the tone for the rest of the game.”
One of the bright spots from Saturday’s game was walk-on freshman guard Madeline Brooks’ 16 minutes of game time, a rarity for walk-ons. The little-used reserve provided energy off the bench throughout the first and second half, and earned her minutes with hard-fought defensive intensity.
Neither player nor coach, however, were willing to celebrate the moment.
“I told coach before the game that I have a lot of energy coming off the bench, and girls like (senior guard Rebekah Gardner) who are playing 40 minutes, I could come in and relieve a little bit,” Brooks said. “I was excited about that. But my team lost, so there should be no rejoicing or excitement about that.”
The same feeling went for Gardner’s big night ““ 22 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists.
No matter the numbers put up by Bruin players, placing them in the context of the game left no room for merriment.
UCLA had a difficult time slowing down Oregon’s lightning-quick attack, which turned inbounds passes into fast breaks. When Oregon was forced into the half-court set, UCLA’s zone defense left shooters open at the perimeter, and Oregon exploited those looks to the tune of ten 3s.
“We knew they were going to be shooting 3-pointers, and it was just a matter of getting back in transition defense and matching up,” Gardner said.
However, this was not a loss dictated by scheme or play style, but one dictated by UCLA’s lack of effort and intensity in every phase of the game.
“It felt like a blitz because we didn’t do what we said we needed to do. We allowed it to be a blitz,” Close said. “We have the choice to be in every game, and to have a chance to win, or we can not. But we will continue to be a sub-.500 team until we change the consistency of how we play with our hearts and our head.”
The explanations for why this team has struggled are readily available: a coaching transition, a lack of size and, of course, the rash of injuries. For Close, however, those are simply excuses, and ones that the team has allowed to infiltrate their own thinking.
“Until we have a spirit of “˜giving to my teammate’s experience’ more than “˜I give to my own and choose my own comfort,’ there will be no difference,” Close said. “We will be in here saying the exact same things for the next however many weeks in the Pac-12 season, until we make that choice. And we have not done that yet.”