As Wednesday’s women’s basketball practice dwindled down, UCLA redshirt senior forward Jasmine Dixon and senior forward Alyssia Brewer took turns working on their post moves. Amid the spins, drop steps and hook shots, the two smiled and exchanged jokes. For a team preparing to play a pair of top-10 opponents this weekend, the Bruins looked remarkably relaxed.
And that’s just the approach coach Cori Close wants her team to take on its road trip to No. 6 Stanford and No. 7 Cal.
“You’ve got to work on staying level, because the other team is going to have a run,” Close said.
“Basketball is a game of runs and if you get too hyped, then when you hit that opposition or that run by the other team, the crash is just as deep.”
Avoiding the hype in these matches is a tall order. Stanford and Cal have dominated the recent Pac-12 landscape, finishing first and second, respectively, in the conference last year. With No. 14 UCLA looking to join them as a force in the Pac-12, these games provide an opportunity to see how it stacks up against the conference’s – and nation’s – best teams.
“I think it’s a great measuring stick at the perfect time,” Close said. “We’re four games into the Pac-12 and we’re in a position where I think we need to take another step up, and we’re not going to take that step until someone really quality draws it out of us.”
Describing Stanford (14-2, 3-1 Pac-12) and Cal (14-2, 4-1) as quality could be selling them short, and each team presents a different set of challenges for UCLA (13-2, 4-0) to overcome.
“(Stanford has) a lot of different sets that they do, so that game is a very cerebral, very intricate scouting report. Then going into Cal is going to be like (World Wrestling Entertainment),” Close said. “It’s like whoever can be more physical, on balance and control rebounds and make a few perimeter shots, so it’s going to be a completely different scouting report. So both teams are really, really good but in completely different ways.”
How the Bruins perform against such tough competition could prove whether or not they belong at the top of the conference standings and whether their goal of being there at the end of the year is realistic.
“I think it’s very important, and I think it’s going to be two stepping stones for us to establish ourselves as a top contender in the Pac-12,” Brewer said.
While they may be the underdogs based on the national rankings, the Bruins are confident in their ability to be competitive in both games.
“We have so many puzzles and once we put them all together, it’s a very unique team,” said senior guard Mariah Williams.
“It’s very strong. We have great chemistry and we have a lot of ways of punching you, so I think at the end of the day, it’s just going to be a matter of each and every one of us bringing what we have to offer to the table and playing for one another.”
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