UCLA’s women’s basketball team won’t need to look too far into its archives to find a formula to beat Stanford.
Those answers are buried in its most recent game against Stanford – last year’s Pac-12 championship game that UCLA lost 51-49.
It was a game that went down to the wire, and only at the sound of the buzzer did it become clear that UCLA would have to leave without the ‘W’ and the Pac-12 trophy. But something that was apparent throughout the game was that UCLA had found the key to unlocking Stanford’s triangle offense.
“We actually forced them to go completely away from their triangle offense and run something different, so I think there’re some fond memories, but also some, ‘Ooh, we let that one go away,’” said coach Cori Close about the two teams’ most recent encounter.
Senior guard Thea Lemberger knows exactly what role she needs to play to once again disrupt the rhythm of the Cardinal’s offense when the Bruins (10-9, 4-3 Pac-12) get a shot at redemption against the Cardinal (18-1, 6-0) Friday in Stanford.
“As guards, we really need to pressure their perimeter players,” Lemberger said. “So not giving them any open looks and pressuring them a lot, that’s going to take them out of their rhythm because they’re used to running rhythmic offense: pass, pass, kick, back cut.”
For UCLA’s other starting guard, sophomore Nirra Fields, Friday’s game will be a chance to take last year’s performance one step further.
“I do feel there’s some unfinished business for Nirra,” Close said. “At the same time, it’s a confidence builder because she played really well, and did a great job on Amber Orrange and forced her out of her comfort zone for a long time.”
If sixth-year senior forward Atonye Nyingifa’s analogy that Stanford is a “well-oiled machine” holds true, then the largest cog in the Stanford machine that keeps the gears in motion is power forward Chiney Ogwumike.
Ogwumike ranks third in the nation’s list of most prolific scorers with an average 27.1 points per game. But her UCLA counterpart, Nyingifa, knows which past experience she needs to channel if her team wants to put Ogwumike on lockdown. It’s no surprise that it’s her last matchup with Stanford during last year’s Pac-12 championships, when Ogwumike only managed three points.
“I think our main goal is to keep her out of the war zone, keep her out of the paint and box her out,” Nyingifa said.
The Bruins will walk into Maples Pavilion hoping for a near repeat of last year’s game. But one thing they don’t want to replicate is the result.