When boxers take repeated shots to the body, it doesn’t often knock them down. It’s not usually the knockout blow.
No, a body shot drains energy, like putting a hole in a gas tank. Sooner or later you’re going to run out of fuel. Weaknesses are magnified.
The UCLA women’s basketball team (8-10, 3-4 Pac-12) has to feel a little bit like a boxer on the ropes right now. The hits have kept coming, all season long ““ injuries, one after the other, to important players, road losses, Pac-12 losses, home losses.
“It’s sort of a fight or flight. You’re either going to fight to never let that happen again, or you’re not going to be around very long,” coach Cori Close said.
“You can’t have effort like (Saturday’s game) and concentration like that and be successful at this level. Period.”
As UCLA heads toward a road matchup tonight with new Pac-12 foe Utah (9-9, 2-5), the Bruins are working hard to bring the gloves back up, close off their holes and start punching back.
The first step is getting the team’s mind right, Close said. The story at practice has been Close and her staff teaching a spirit of selflessness, as they focus on putting the team before oneself. While the message remains the same, the implications have not.
“I think I was speaking, last week, more practically. … I’ve got to get outside myself and figure out how I can contribute practically, on the court, to make the team better,” Close said.
“This week, it’s about, you know, get your gut in check and learn to play hard and more focused. Understand who you represent in this building.”
Teams that have beaten the Bruins in recent weeks have been able to capitalize on inconsistent efforts, both on the glass and on the defensive end. Utah will try to do the same, as they will look to tire out UCLA’s short bench and soften up the defense.
The Bruins will need someone to step up and help carry the load, as senior guard Rebekah Gardner has done most of the heavy lifting, both in scoring and in rebounding. Rebounds, in particular, have been a trouble spot for the team.
“Everybody’s trying to step up, but it’s one step at a time,” junior forward Markel Walker said.
“It’s just about giving your all even when you don’t want to. When we start doing that, when we start seeing that and get rewarded, we’ll understand that we need to be doing that every day.”
It will be a tough task, because the next two games are road games against unfamiliar foes. But if the Bruins have any hope of pulling themselves off the ropes and getting back in the fight, it starts this week.
Close understands this, and simply wants her teams to play with consistent effort for a full 40 minutes. When the Bruins have done that, the wins have been much easier to come by. And if the players hate losing, they’ll see that.
Accordingly, Close would likely be pleased with the attitude of her center Corinne Costa. The 6-foot-4-inch sophomore has become a strong inside presence for UCLA and will be vital from here forward.
“I’m going to work my butt off on defense,” Costa said. “And when I get the ball? Score.”