For the past three weeks UCLA women’s basketball has focused on rebounding, but it’s been about more than just crashing the boards. After two demoralizing losses to Stanford and Cal, games that were supposed to show the Bruins how they stacked up against the best of the Pac-12, UCLA has been working its way back into the dominant groove it was in prior to those losses.
Now, as Cal and Stanford come to Westwood this weekend, No. 15 UCLA has a chance to complete the recovery process and see how it has grown from the previous losses.
“I think when the sting happens, your heart’s a little softer and your ears are a little bigger, and I think you’re willing to look in the mirror. But I think we learned from the losses, and I just think we learned from playing against top-flight competition. It tells you where your gaps are,” said coach Cori Close.
“Things you can maybe get away with against other teams and not have it sting so much, you can’t get away with against two teams as good as No. 6 Cal and No. 4 Stanford are, so what a great opportunity to rise up and be different and build our program to that level.”
Throughout their last trip to the Bay Area, the Bruins struggled to control their emotions, which the team believes ultimately hurt its play.
“I would just say that we let frustration get to us. We hadn’t been put in a situation like that this year. We wanted to get the wins, but we were letting what was happening affect us more on the court than we should have,” said senior forward Alyssia Brewer.
As the Bruins now prepare for another set of games that are sure to stir up their emotions, they are trying to avoid having a mindset of revenge.
“I just think revenge is short-lived. It can give you an emotional burst, but it can also give you a crash,” Close said. “I think revenge … may give you a little bit of a twinge of ‘Yeah, this makes it exciting,’ and it adds a little edge going into the game, but I don’t think it’s a sustained motivation.”
The Bruins are instead drawing motivation out of the significance of the games themselves. As UCLA (19-4, 10-2 Pac-12) sits just one game behind both Stanford (22-2, 11-1) and Cal (21-2, 11-1) in the Pac-12 standings, this weekend’s outcome could have major implications in determining who finishes the year atop the conference.
“We have an opportunity to win a Pac-12 championship. But it’s an opportunity. That’s all it is. And where we go from there is up to us,” Close said.
While the games certainly have large implications for UCLA’s season, some players can’t help but make things personal.
“There’s definitely some animosity (against Stanford). I’ve never beat them. Our program doesn’t beat them that often. Hasn’t beat them since (2008), so it’s been a while, and we play them two or three times a year, so it’s pretty annoying,” said junior guard Thea Lemberger.
“I just want to beat them so bad.”
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