This weekend, UCLA women’s basketball is putting rebounding, defense and ball security on the back burner.
Instead, the Bruins have bigger things on their agenda.
“(The) No. 1 priority for us this week is not even dribble penetration, it’s not even taking care of the ball. It’s team spirit. Bonding,” said coach Cori Close.
But to Close and her squad, team spirit is more than just a YMCA youth sports cliche.
“It’s everything. It’s that eye contact after a great pass. It’s that jumping up off the bench. It’s how you receive your teammate coming off (the floor). It’s every opportunity to bring enthusiasm to the possession and to the play to make it fun for the whole group,” Close said.
UCLA will have its first opportunity to put this new mindset into practice at tonight’s game against Arizona (11-6, 3-3 Pac-12).
Though the No. 19 Bruins (13-4, 4-2) are loaded with individual talent and have had early season success, they know they haven’t peaked yet.
More so, they said they are just beginning to find the key to their potential.
“That’s what team spirit does. It makes you greater than your individual pieces. Your whole becomes greater, and it’s really fun to play that way,” Close said.
On the heels of two tough losses last weekend, the team embraced this new attitude.
“I think this week in practice has been our most energetic. … It’s just really fun, and when you do that, you have fun when you’re playing,” said senior forward Alyssia Brewer.
The once-quiet late afternoon practices have now become loud and animated.
Coaches constantly shout out words of encouragement, pointing out each player’s good efforts, such as setting a hard screen or making a strong cut to get open rather than just making a shot.
Players also compliment each other throughout practice.
Behind all of that is the supportive applause and cheers from the team managers and the scout team.
At the end practice, the women’s basketball team had started breaking its huddle to the chant of “together.”
“The energy that you carry on the court reflects how you play,” Brewer said.
“So another thing we learned this (past) weekend is we still have to keep the energy alive even when we’re down. And we have to stay positive in the moment, even if it’s a tough time.”
“I think in the (NCAA) tournament, you need good teams, not good individual players,” said freshman guard Kari Korver.
“I think we have a lot of individual talent, but we need to bring that together and (become) a great team.”
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