Seven in a row.
That’s what the Bruins have the chance to accomplish this weekend. All they have to do is sweep the Trojans for the second straight season.
Second in the Pac-12, No. 9 UCLA women’s basketball (17-4, 8-2 Pac-12) will host crosstown rival USC (15-6, 5-5) in the first game of a back-to-back matchup.
The rivalry has been lopsided the last three seasons, with the Bruins winning in five of their last six meetings. However, despite being five places behind second-place UCLA, USC’s overall record has them behind UCLA by just 2.5 games.
“There’s obviously such a fun rivalry. … It’s obvious that both teams are going to know each other really, really well,” said coach Cori Close. “There’s not going to be a lot of secrets, it’s who can execute. … I’m sure that they have the same game plan to try to take away what we do well.”
The Trojans are second in steals per game in the Pac-12. In the past two games, sharing the ball has been a problem for the Bruins, as they’ve turned the ball over 28 times and have only recorded 24 assists. In Sunday’s game against Washington State, UCLA had just nine assists, tying its season low.
Senior forward Monique Billings said she is aware of the problem, and will make it a point of emphasis this weekend.
“We’re emphasizing taking care of the ball. We’ve kind of been a little careless,” Billings said. “But it goes both ways – with post, we’re trying to get better seals, and the guards are trying to throw us better passes.”
Billings will match up against forward Kristen Simon, the only player in the Pac-12 who ranks in the top five in both points and rebounds with averages of 17.9 and 8.7 per game, respectively.
Close says she sees the winner of this matchup as the team that can get its respective big the ball more efficiently.
“The team that is going to win that matchup is the one that’s able to get them the ball in the best positions,” Close said. “We’re going to try to not allow (Simon) to catch the ball in the positions that she wants.”
Simon is one of four Trojans who average more than 10 points per game. She’s joined by guard Sadie Edwards, guard Aliyah Mazyck and guard Minyon Moore, making USC the only team in the Pac-12 with four players in the top 15 in scoring.
Close said the key to slowing down USC’s potent offense will be to keep it outside of the paint.
“We’re going to really need to move our feet. … They’re going to make their money from going downhill with the ball or going inside to Simon,” Close said. “The key factor is really trying to keep them out the paint.”
Junior forward Kennedy Burke recognizes the rivalry between UCLA and USC, but has already formed her own idea of which team has the upper hand in the crosstown matchup.
“It’s like who’s the best in LA. … I think we really are the best in LA,” Burke said. “We just have to keep that mindset going into the games – play together, play strong, share the ball and just do the best.”