Coach Cori Close spent the past week of practice preaching defense to her team.
They were listening.
Powered by their 23 steals and 29 forced turnovers, UCLA women’s basketball toppled a previously undefeated Texas team on the road 62-42.
“I just think we really had to take away what they were best at, which is going inside, and that forced them to get a little bit out of rhythm,” said Close. “I think when young guards are out of rhythm, it creates sometime a hesitation which allowed us to get a deflection on the ball.
“Getting those little things when you’re out of rhythm leads to turnovers.”
While No. 12 Texas (5-1) struggled to gain momentum, No. 17UCLA (5-1) was the opposite. After a slow start to the game, the Bruins went on a 28-to-7 run to finish the first half.
“Our momentum and our passion kind of just overwhelmed Texas and I think we just got the momentum from there,” said redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa.
That energy and effort on defense was the key difference in the game.
“(The energy came from) just understanding that it’s a big game for us,” said senior guard Mariah Williams.
“Of course you go into every game like the same thing, of course you want to win, but we understand this is an undefeated team. We are on their turf and it’s going to take a lot of energy to overcome any distractions or anything that might get in the way of us winning.”
Also crucial to UCLA’s dominant defense was communication, made more difficult by the fact that the game was played in Reliant Stadium, which normally houses the Houston Texans football team and is about five times the size of Pauley Pavilion.
“(The size) forced us to communicate with one another, and I think that also attributes to the (win) we got today,” said Williams.
But for all UCLA did well ““ the 20-point win, stifling defense and communication ““ there were plenty of areas for them to improve.
The Bruins committed 20 turnovers of their own, making the blowout win less impressive than it could have been.
UCLA also grabbed 5 fewer rebounds than Texas, even though the Longhorns boast the second-best rebound differential in the nation.
“They usually out-rebound their opponents by 20 plus, so for us to get out-rebounded by 5 is an improvement, but I think for us to be a Final Four team, we need to do a lot better,” said Nyingifa.
The Bruins are also looking to improve on their offense, which, despite the big win, struggled at times throughout the game.
“I don’t think we played a great offensive game, but what I told the team after the game was, “˜Look, we didn’t play well offensively, we turned the ball over more than we should have and we still beat a top-15 team by 20,’” said Close.
“So that shows you about our program and how consistency is built.”
“It’s not on the offensive end; it’s on the defensive end. And then we just have to keep getting better and improving.”
Email Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org