All four of the women’s basketball team’s losses this season have come against road opponents, but the Bruins’ upcoming four-game roadtrip will give it a chance to get back in the road-win column.
The No. 13 Bruins (17-4, 8-2 Pac-12) are currently riding a six-game win streak, which they hope to build on starting with a visit to Haas Pavilion to face the California Golden Bears (15-7, 3-7) on Friday.
“Against Cal, they’re a lot better than their record. It’s going to come down to us being able to take care of the ball, being able to rebound and being able to protect the paint,” said coach Cori Close. “Whichever team is able to get high-percentage shots in the paint on a consistent basis, whether off of penetration, post feed, offensive rebounds, that’s probably who’s going to win. It’s really important to us to protect the paint and take care of the ball.”
UCLA will likely have its hands full against Cal’s center/forward Kristine Anigwe, who dropped 32 points in the Bears’ 84-79 loss against the Washington State Cougars. UCLA junior forward Monique Billings will draw the assignment against the high-scoring Anigwe, who also had an 50-point outing against Sacramento State in December. Stopping Anigwe will be a team effort, according to Close.
“It’s not just about (Billings) against Anigwe – it’s about our team,” Close said. “We’re going to have to bring a double-team sometimes, and we’re going to have to break up her rhythm. I think the most important thing about guarding Anigwe is stopping her before she ever touches the ball.”
Both Billings and Anigwe are tied with 13 double-doubles on the season and share the seventh rank in the nation. The two are also ranked in the Pac-12 top-five in scoring and rebounding.
Billings is coming off a 14-point and five-rebound showing in her team’s balanced, 69-49 win against Arizona (11-10, 2-8). Against the Wildcats, the Bruins notched as many assists as their opponent’s made baskets with 19. Senior guard Kari Korver netted six 3-pointers, shooting her way out of a recent shooting slump and finishing with a game-high 24 points. Junior guard Jordin Canada was just one assist shy of a double-double to go along with 11 points.
On paper, UCLA and Cal place third and fourth in the Pac-12, respectively, in points per game and fourth and fifth, respectively, in scoring margin at +12.5 and +9.1. Meanwhile, the Bruins hold a +5.29 turnover margin against their opponents whereas the Bears rank second-to-last in the same category at -1.91, an area that the Bruins have been looking to exploit all season.
The last matchup between the two teams dates back to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals where UCLA emerged with a 73-67 overtime win. And while the rosters remain relatively the same, Close emphasizes the two’s team chemistry.
“I think both teams are better. Both teams have improved and more experienced,” Close said. “That’s why it’s not going to be about individual talent. It’s going to be about which team plays more together. We tell our players, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”