Monday, February 27

Women’s basketball shoots for fifth straight win

UCLA puts pressure on its opponents with myriad scoring options, including senior Markel Walker’s 13.4 points per game.

UCLA puts pressure on its opponents with myriad scoring options, including senior Markel Walker’s 13.4 points per game. Sidhaant Shah

UCLA vs Washington State

Friday, 7:00 Pauley Pavilion Pac-12 Networks

As practice died down on Wednesday evening, UCLA’s offense began to light up.

On one court, senior forward Alyssia Brewer caught the ball in the post, spun and gave her defender an up-and-under shoulder fake, throwing the defender off balance and allowing her to lay it in easily.

On the opposite court, freshman guard Nirra Fields ran a pick-and-roll, where she threaded the needle on a crisp bounce pass squarely in between two defenders to one of her teammates. Before long, most of the women’s basketball team joined them in these late practice drills.

They, too, put on a show.

As a team, UCLA is second in the Pac-12 in scoring offense at 72.1 points per game, just a hair shy of the top spot. Conversely, its once-heralded defense is ranked a meager ninth in the conference.

Similar to the men’s basketball team, the Bruins’ offense has unexpectedly stolen the spotlight.

For better or worse, it’s a trend No. 14 UCLA (11-2, 2-0 Pac-12) will continue to rely on to help the Bruins extend their four-game winning streak, as they face the Washington State Cougars (5-8, 1-1) tonight.

“We have good individual players quite frankly. We have a lot of different kinds of weapons. We can play small. We can spread people out. We have versatile players,” said coach Cori Close.

UCLA’s offensive success seems to be a given these days. But the catalyst behind that success isn’t always as clear-cut.

Five Bruins average between 10 and 13.4 points per game, giving the team tremendous balance on offense. In its last four games alone, UCLA has had four different leading scorers.

“It’s great. It puts more pressure on the defense (because) we have so many people that are capable of scoring,” said senior guard/forward Markel Walker.

The Bruins have so many offensive weapons that a player can lead the team in scoring one night and not be as prolific the following game without the team’s offensive production slipping.

“I mean if you look at any of the top-25 teams in the country, they have a lot of players on their team scoring double digits and I think that’s what we need to have,” said redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa.

“So to have five players in double-digit figures makes us harder to defend. You never know who’s going to do what. And I think that makes our opponents have an undecided nature in who to guard.”

The firepower has come from just about everywhere.

The Bruins’ inside players have been a force, allowing the team to play inside-out at times.

Their shooters sink their mid-range shots consistently enough to spread the floor.

And in transition, they have readily converted fast-break opportunities into easy buckets because of individual players’ athletic abilities.

But UCLA’s most lethal scoring tool may be its misses.

The team leads the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding, and the extra possessions have been the bread-and-butter of its scoring success.

“Coach always emphasizes second chance, second opportunities that lead to quick, easy putbacks. And I think that’s what we need,” Nyingifa said.

“Those passion plays are what we need to get the W.”

Email Kalra at [email protected].

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