Oklahoma State may be unranked, but on paper, the Cowgirls’ head-to-head season stats are very similar to the Bruins’.
“Oklahoma State is a great team – I saw them play against Mississippi State,” said senior guard Jordin Canada. “They only lost by three (on the road), and they’re a great team as well. So we know it’s going to be a battle.”
No. 7 UCLA women’s basketball (7-1) will kick off a five-game road trip by visiting Oklahoma State (6-2) on Friday. Both teams are holding opponents to just under 60 points per game and lead their conferences in steals, tallying 12.1 and 11.5 per game, respectively.
Oklahoma State will face its third top-15 opponent in just two weeks, after falling to both No. 12 Tennessee and No. 6 Mississippi State in close games. However, the Cowgirls will have a chance to pull off an upset in front of their home crowd.
“That’s what we love to do – I’m like ‘Bring it on,’” said coach Cori Close. “If you’re a competitor, that’s exactly what you want. You want situations that are going to force you to rise up.”
UCLA will be playing its first road game of the season.
“Obviously playing on the road is always very hard,” said senior guard Kelli Hayes. “But our defense has prepared us very well to play road games like this.”
Close often reminds her players that defense wins games. The Bruins have been playing stifling defense by limiting opponents to just 35.9 percent from the field.
“I think it’s been motivating to be a great defensive team (because) we’ve never been a great offensive team,” Close said. “As a lot of coaches have said … offense is up and down, but defense travels. It will be the same whether you’re in your own court or somebody else’s gym.”
Hayes also agreed the team’s defense has led to getting everyone involved.
“It’s definitely us finding those easier shots in transition, (making sure to look) in the paint for people posting up like (senior forward Monique Billings)… or (Canada) penetrating in transition taking her shot,” Hayes said. “Everyone on the team working on their strengths, that’s something that’s been going well for us this year on the court.”
Billings is continuing to dominate the paint, averaging 15.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Last Wednesday, she joined Canada on the 2018 Citizen Naismith Trophy watch list. The duo was nominated among 50 candidates, including Oklahoma State’s center, Kaylee Jensen.
UCLA will have the opportunity to showcase its game plan of attacking the paint coming off Sunday’s confident win, scoring over half of its points inside the paint in its 74-44 win against UCSB.
The Bruins, however, still struggled to find the bottom of the net shooting from behind the arc and sit tied for second to last in the Pac-12 at just 30.2 percent. On the other hand, Oklahoma State leads the Big-12 in defending the 3-point line, limiting opponents to just 23.5 percent.
“If they take away the 3-point line, we’re still going to have killer inside game and just (focus on) getting those offensive boards,” Hayes said.
The Bruins also lead the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding, hauling down 16.8 per game.
Canada said the team was unable to squeeze in a practice before traveling to Oklahoma due to complications caused by the Skirball fire near UCLA’s campus, and said coaches will work out little details and run through the game plan with the players once they arrive.