There was a new sense of urgency in practice on Wednesday. Coming off of hard-fought wins over Arizona and Arizona State, coach Cori Close wanted UCLA women’s basketball to fight even harder, demanding energy from her players as she yelled out instructions from across the court.
It’s this level of intensity that has allowed the Bruins to be so successful this season.
But despite its success and a pair of wins last weekend, UCLA is still hoping to see some improvements in its games against Colorado and Utah this weekend, which will mark the midpoint of its Pac-12 conference schedule.
Yet even with half the season behind them, the Bruins don’t see themselves as a finished product.
“Not close, and honestly, I’m glad in January we’re not,” Close said.
“Our players have to have that kind of hunger that, yeah we are growing and to celebrate those victories, but also to go ‘Man, there’s so many more areas where we can get better to become a better basketball team.’”
The first area in which Close wants the team to improve is its focus on the little things.
“I just think there was a lot of possessions that I showed them on film that, ‘Look at right here,’ how many good things we did and because of one little detail, a few inches, it was the difference between being rewarded for all that hard work and a turnover for instance,” Close said.
These details will be crucial against Colorado (15-4, 4-4 Pac-12), which No. 18 UCLA faces tonight, as the Buffaloes are second in the conference in both defense and defensive rebounding. The Bruins (15-4, 6-2) will also need to re-establish their low post dominance, which went missing in their last game.
“In practice we’ve been working on it, and coach has really been emphasizing that we need a low post presence,” said redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa.
“We definitely turned it around this week, and emphasized getting the ball inside.”
For a UCLA offense that has been struggling as of late, facing one of the conference’s top defensive squads poses another challenge. But the Bruins aren’t concerned about scoring points.
“I think just thinking of all the teams we’ve played thus far, our team generally shows up for big games,” said senior guard Mariah Williams. “Not to say we don’t show up for every game, but I think there’s obviously a better sense of focus, a better sense of urgency.”
While No. 22 Colorado is at the forefront of the team’s mind, UCLA is not overlooking Utah (10-9, 1-7), whose exclusion from the top 25 is, players said, no indication of the team’s abilities.
“We’re going up against another competitor. Whether they’re No. 2, No. 5 or not ranked at all, we’re going to play our game, and what they do should have no effect on our game plan and the way we play,” Nyingifa said.
Rather than worrying about the rankings, UCLA is instead focusing on something it can control: getting better every day.
“I’m hoping we choose the attitude of ‘Man, there’s so much more room for us to grow.’ That’s a good thing. So let’s create that kind of momentum, that growth so every week the Bruins are a little bit different, a little better,” Close said.
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