During Wednesday’s practice, coach Cori Close’s frustration boiled over.
Upset with her team’s lack of effort, she stood up from her sideline seat and brought practice to a screeching halt.
Close yelled at her team to raise its intensity levels, and capped off her speech with a simple message.
“You have to fight.”
After playing four teams that made last year’s NCAA tournament to open this season, No. 19 UCLA (3-1) will now face Loyola Marymount (4-3), but the letdown in competition only makes it more imperative for the Bruins to bring that “fight.”
“It’s about “˜Do you want a growth mind-set or not?’… If you have any night where you don’t have a quest to get better, then a team like Cal Poly beats our men and a team like LMU will beat us … (and we need a) desire and quest to get better and play towards excellence,” Close said.
So far, UCLA has experienced some growth.
The team earned a signature win over a top-15 team when it beat Oklahoma on the road, which catapulted UCLA into the national rankings.
The Bruins have narrowed their focus, though, so as to not get swallowed up by their early season success.
“(We just need) to continue with the consistency that we built with the Princeton game. Just building on top of that, and taking it to another level,” said senior guard Mariah Williams.
The likely return of junior guard Thea Lemberger, the team’s second leading scorer, from injury should aid that mission.
“She’s one of our captains and one of the leaders on our team. So her voice is always great. She’s been doing a really good job from the bench, but it’s even more helpful for her to be out there and show it,” said senior forward Alyssia Brewer. “She’s really been missed and I’ll be glad to have her back.”
Close and her coaching staff will be working for more than one cause against LMU.
In an effort to raise 200 shoes for underprivileged students at Lifeline Education Charter School and money for the nonprofit organization, Samaritan’s Feet, Close and her assistants will coach barefoot for Sunday’s game.
“I think that one of our core values is that players leave our program being givers and not takers. And I think when you have an experience like putting shoes on kids that don’t have them, it changes you,” Close said.
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