As senior guard/forward Markel Walker broke down her team’s work in practice this week, one glaring theme kept arising.
“(This week’s practice has been) a lot of defensive focus. A lot of closing out, defensive rebounding, gaps in communication on defense, transition defense, so just breaking down all the fundamentals of defense,” Walker said.
Defense has been the staple of the Bruins’ early season success thus far, and UCLA will have to rely on it again as the team looks to continue its hot start against No. 12 Texas (5-0) Saturday in Houston.
“We have specific goals that our team has set,” junior guard Thea Lemberger said. “Outrebounding our opponents is (one of our main goals). And keeping our opponent shooting a low percentage from the field, about under 35 percent.”
No. 17 UCLA (4-1) has risen to the challenge so far, outrebounding its opponents by over 10 rebounds a game and holding them to 37.7 percent shooting from the field.
But the Longhorns’ style of play and superb rebounding ability figure to provide a whole new challenge for the Bruins.
“They’re really good in transition so it’s going to be really important that we hustle back in transition and control the boards,” coach Cori Close said. “They have been outrebounding their opponents by almost 20 per game. It’s going to be about controlling possessions and making sure they don’t get anything in transition.”
Another challenge will be playing a highly ranked team in a road-like atmosphere, as Houston is within a three-hour drive of the Longhorns’ campus. But it’s a challenge UCLA believes it can accomplish.
“They’ve earned that level of confidence by going in and getting that win (on the road against then-No. 11) Oklahoma. So I think mentally, you go in going, “˜Okay, we know we can do this,’ not “˜We hope we can,’” Close said.
For UCLA, a win over Texas would bolster the team’s solid non-conference NCAA tournament resume, but it isn’t the team’s No. 1 priority.
“I don’t think the win or the loss is the most important thing,” Close said. “But it is desperately important that we get better (and) rise up to a new level and (by using) the level of competition to push us to into new habits and new levels of execution.”