The Bruins got two days off from practice this week – one more than they usually get.
They earned it.
Coach Cori Close promised her team extra rest if it reached a certain amount of passion plays regardless of the games’ outcomes. Close defines passion plays as a nonstatistical category that includes drawing a charge or grabbing an out-of-area rebound, believing that these efforts are what determine her team’s level of intensity. Despite being up by 24 at halftime against Colorado on Sunday, UCLA continued to grind out passion plays to reach the set goal for the weekend.
Well-rested for a second go-around this season, No. 13 UCLA (13-4, 4-2 Pac-12) women’s basketball will rematch No. 21 California (13-4, 4-2) on Friday and Stanford (11-7, 5-1) on Sunday, this time with a home-crowd advantag
The Bruins trounced the then-No. 20 Golden Bears 82-46 on Dec. 31 for the Bruins’ largest victory in Haas Pavilion, and will have the opportunity to bounce back against the Cardinal after falling to them 76-65 on Dec. 29.
Close said the best part about replaying conference teams is the challenge to take on the opponents’ adjustments.
“That’s fun to have to be challenged every single night,” Close said. “We know Cal did not have their best showing against us the first time, and they will come competitive and ready … and believing they can create something different.”
UCLA’s dominance against California was largely due to its defensive pressure, limiting Cal guard Kianna Smith’s playmaking ability. The Bears struggled to find the bottom of the net and were held to just 28.6 percent from the field.
“She’s got a really good court sense and she’s an excellent passer,” Close said. “If she plays well, their whole offense plays well and then they’re able to get the ball to (Cal center Kristine Anigwe).”
Anigwe has combined for 56 points and 27 rebounds in her last two contests, earning her Pac-12 Player of the Week honors.
“We just have to have the same mindset that we had when we went into Cal, making sure we’re pressuring (Smith) and limiting her vision, so that way (she) won’t lob to (Anigwe),” said senior guard Jordin Canada.
As for Stanford, Canada and Close both said the team did not play hard enough in its loss earlier this season. UCLA lost the rebounding battle 48-33 and gave up large runs at the beginning of each quarter. The Bruins have only lost one game in which they outrebounded their opponent.
“Last time, we didn’t come out pushing the tempo and that’s when they got their runs,” Canada said. “Urgency and defense are what’s going to help us get a great start against Stanford.”
Freshman forward Michaela Onyenwere has been a part of UCLA’s strength – boxing out – especially on the offensive glass. She is currently the Bruins’ second-most prolific offensive rebounder, behind teammate senior forward Monique Billings.
In the past two games, Canada and Onyenwere have complemented each other. Now, as UCLA’s all-time assists leader, Canada is currently seventh in the nation in assist-turnover ratio and 12th in total assists. The guard has found success feeding Onyenwere down low for easy, high-percentage looks.
“I just get into people’s bodies and (take) them out,” Onyenwere said. “Rebounding is a huge part of our identity and what we want to run, so by me doing what I can do to help my team leads us down a successful path.”
Onyenwere, who returned to playing in her home state against Colorado, had family, high school friends, club teammates and former coaches in the stands. She notched a total of 31 points on the weekend, marking her best back-to-back games of the season and earning her a Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honor.
“She has the heart of a lion,” Close said. “People are trying to box her out, but she just doesn’t allow it, finding a way to tip the ball and going after it. She goes after the rebounds that most people give up on.”