After a streaky start to the new year, coach Cori Close has already moved on to this weekend.
“Every week exposes the things you’re really good at and it exposes the things you still need to work on,” Close said. “I care a lot about learning from every week and getting better every week.”
No. 14 UCLA women’s basketball (11-4, 2-2 Pac-12) heads out on a road trip this weekend to take on Utah (12-3, 3-1 Pac-12) on Friday night and Colorado (11-4, 2-2 Pac-12) on Sunday. Despite UCLA trailing both of the schools in the Pac-12 standings, Close said that she won’t get caught up in her team’s win-loss record.
“We played the four highest-ranked teams in the first two weeks,” Close said. “I couldn’t care less where we are in the standings right now.”
While Close was aware of the difficulties that come with playing on the road, she was confident that the team could rise to the challenge by racking up “passion plays” – her term for nonstatistical, team-first plays that the coaching staff records every game.
“Passion plays are things you can control, and you just have to hurt for them,” Close said. “It’s an opportunity that you have to embrace. It’s an opportunity to do things other people aren’t willing to do.”
According to Close, the Bruins failed to reach 60 passion plays in their loss against Oregon on Sunday, and she claims they need 70 to win. Another problem Sunday was their defense around screens late in the game, something Close addressed in practice this week.
“We overplayed too much,” Close said. “We’ve really been working a lot on ball-screen defense and that’ll be a big part of what Utah does.”
Close also emphasized the importance of playing to her team’s strengths this weekend, something that redshirt junior forward Lajahna Drummer said she was focused on in practice this week.
“Continuing to do what we know how to do best (is important), which is … trying to get buckets in transition and use our speed, our quickness and our athleticism,” Drummer said. “I think practice is about how we can collectively execute, and execute with purpose.”
Senior forward Monique Billings’ experience has allowed her to take on an important leadership role with her team. While she averaged 20.5 points per game last weekend, it didn’t translate to multiple wins. Since the Bruins are just 4-3 in their last seven games, Billings made sure to use that role to guide her teammates toward being a more consistent team.
“Take every single rep seriously – in the games, in practice, every opportunity we have to play,” Billings said. “It’s my last few months here at UCLA, so I’m just taking everything seriously, trying to be focused throughout practice and all the repetition that I get.”
Stuck in eighth place in the Pac-12, the Bruins can launch themselves as high as third with a perfect record this weekend. While she doesn’t want to give the standings any thought, Close did recognize the importance of this road trip and is willing to shake up her lineup to come out unscathed.
“I think it’s really about what does our team need the most to put ourselves in a position to win,” Close said. “It’s all about … maintaining the selfless attitude that it’s going to be different people every day.”
The Bruins take on the Utah Utes on Friday night at 7 p.m. and travel to Colorado to face the Buffaloes on Sunday at 3 p.m.