UCLA will have the opportunity to mark its largest win streak of the season this weekend.
But coach Cori Close remembers coming back from this road trip empty-handed last season.
“On the road, I think you’re always really focused on (things under your control), Close said. “So a real disciplined, businesslike approach is what I’m looking to have happen this weekend.”
Tied for second in the Pac-12, No. 13 UCLA women’s basketball (15-4, 6-2 Pac-12) will travel to play Washington (7-12, 1-7) on Friday and Washington State (9-11, 2-6) on Sunday after winning four consecutive conference games.
“(We) can’t sleep on anyone in the Pac-12,” said senior forward Monique Billings coming off Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. “We did that last year, (and) we got beat.”
Washington State’s only conference wins have come against Washington and Colorado. The Huskies are 1-7 in their last eight games, having recently snapped a seven-game skid.
Washington and Washington State’s conference losses have been an average of 10.7 and 13.2, respectively. While they sit at the bottom half of the conference standings, however, the Pac-12 is arguably the best conference in women’s basketball with five teams in the AP Top 25.
“If you look at the box score for those games, most of them are pretty close games,” said senior guard Kelli Hayes. “So even though their (conference) record may say otherwise, they’re playing really good teams every night.”
UCLA registered 29 total turnovers against Cal and Stanford last weekend, while averaging 10 turnovers in its first six conference games. The Bruins, as a result, were outscored on points off turnovers for two consecutive games – a category UCLA had outscored its opponents in for seven straight games prior to that.
Since turnovers allow opponents to run the floor and cash in on easy transition 3s, Hayes said protecting the ball will be crucial this weekend.
“(The Washington schools) are good 3-point shooting teams and they create turnovers,” Hayes said. “So we have to do a good job taking care of the ball.”
Close also said by perfecting on-ball and ball-screen defense, players won’t have to rotate and compensate each other, making it more difficult for opponents to execute 3s. The Bruins add to their defensive pressure by limiting opponents’ 3s to just 28.5 percent – second in the Pac-12.
“When you pressure and defend the ball in the half-court set, it’s hard for (other teams) to get shots off,” Hayes said. “(Limiting 3-point attempts) is really something we’ve been taking pride in, because most teams in the Pac-12 (have) very good 3-point shooters.”
In addition to that feat, UCLA has been improving the long-range weapon itself, now shooting the 3 at 32.2 percent. Hayes currently leads the team with 27 made 3s.
“Our guards are shooting a lot of 3s (in practice),” Billings said. “They’re shooting gamelike 3s so that when they’re in the game, they can naturally shoot their 3s.”
Close credited her team’s ability to grab second-chance opportunities in order to open up quality looks from beyond the arc. The Bruins’ offensive rebounding leads the conference and accounts for nearly 40 percent of their total boards.
“When you’re able to dribble, penetrate and kick out, when you’re able to get offensive rebounds and kick out, those are opportunities when your feet are already set and that makes a big difference,” Close said.