The timekeeper’s bell is ringing and the card in the air clearly displays “Round 2.”
It’s time for the UCLA women’s basketball team to lace up the boxing gloves again as it takes on Pac-12 opponents for the second time this season. And it all starts Saturday against crosstown rival USC.
“I’m excited to get another shot at every single team, to have that clean slate, that fresh start to try to get a win against everybody,” said senior guard Thea Lemberger. “I think we’re capable and it’s exciting to get that second opportunity.”
With the conclusion of round one of the season, coach Cori Close said she and her team now have the blueprint of how best to approach their conference opponents on their second go. And accordingly, practices have been adapted to focus specifically on what the Bruins need to do to deliver that knockout punch.
“We’ve taken two days off this week; we’ve got a chance to regroup. We had short, crisp practices,” Close said. “You tend to narrow your focus and it’s just about concentration than mental reps at this point.”
Despite a shaky start to the season, the Bruins will be heading into their second set of Pac-12 matches knowing that when not much separates them from the teams ahead in the conference standings, every win counts, and a final push would leave them in significantly better shape for the postseason.
“It’s really anybody’s game through second to fifth place,” said sixth-year senior forward Atonye Nyingifa. “I know a lot of teams are really stepping up their game, so I would say going into the second round every game really matters. Especially when you want a good seed going into the Pac-12 tournament and try to set yourself to get into the NCAA playoffs.”
The Bruins’ (11-12, 5-6 Pac-12) quest to climb the ladder of conference standings will require the team to avenge some earlier defeats. And the first of the demons that need to be exorcised is USC (14-9, 7-4).
That starts with looking back at the two-point loss in December at Pauley Pavilion and rectifying what went wrong.
“We’re a whole new team, we’re able to read the defense a lot better and I think that’s going to be the deciding factor,” Nyingifa said. “We made minute mistakes, a lot of minute mistakes, that when we go to their house I think will be fixed.”
For Lemberger, who is playing her last season of college basketball, the rematch against Pac-12 teams will represent more than just a chance to settle some scores and improve the team’s conference standings.
“It’s mixed emotions, it’s exciting to get the chance to play them again,” Lemberger said. “But it’s always a weird feeling knowing it’s my last time around playing these teams.”