The Bruins are inching up in the rankings.
Because then-No. 7 South Carolina (20-5) fell to the top two teams in the nation last week, UCLA women’s basketball (21-4, 12-2 Pac-12) has leapt ahead of South Carolina to the No. 7 spot in the AP Top 25. The Bruins are now recognized as a No. 2 seed for the NCAA tournament in ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme’s projections.
UCLA has advanced to the Sweet 16 in its past two seasons – last year as a No. 4 seed – but has not reached the Elite Eight since 1999.
Despite 10 consecutive wins, however, the Bruins are still making adjustments.
Coach Cori Close said she has recently been on her seniors, guard Jordin Canada and forward Monique Billings, for their foul trouble due to sloppiness.
“They’re smart enough and they know that most of their fouls were late plays. You have to (adjust to the way they’re calling the game),” Close said. “They’re seniors, they know how to do that.”
She also said taking care of the ball has been a problem.
Before its victory over then-No. 25 Arizona State (17-9, 8-6), UCLA was either at or above its season average of about 13 turnovers for seven straight games.
“When we try to make the hero pass or we try to do it too early in the shot clock, that’s when we get our turnovers,” Close said.
After defeating the Sun Devils, Close said the most important feat during this win streak is that the Bruins are clicking together rather than individually. She also said leadership and decisiveness from Canada and Billings during games has recently improved to minimize the team’s mistakes.
“I’m really proud of the leadership of these two. (Canada) had been sort of struggling a little bit … and I’ve been just absolutely on her about decision-making and affecting every play,” Close said. “And recently (Billings) has been just so efficient and our rock inside.”
As a team, the Bruins have assisted one another on more than half of their team’s field goals in its last four games, improving by sharing the ball while limiting turnovers. They failed to reach that mark prior to that when playing the Washington schools.
In its win against Arizona State, UCLA dished out 21 assists on 30 made shots, while turning the ball over just eight times – tying a season low. Canada and junior transfer guard Japreece Dean combined for 17 assists and zero turnovers.
“I thought I wasn’t (taking) the right shots and I was off balance,” Canada said. “But (I’ve been making) better decisions on when to shoot it, when to drive, when to kick it out, and just playing more aggressive … because it starts with me.”
With just four regular season games left, the Bruins have their best record since 2011. UCLA remains in a three-way tie for back-to-back weeks, sitting at the top of the Pac-12 alongside No. 9 Oregon (23-4, 12-2) and No. 14 Stanford (18-8, 12-2).
“It’s the reps that are going to give us the confidence in games,” Billings said about going into next weekend.
Canada and Billings lead the Bruins in scoring, averaging a combined 29.8 points this season. The duo has also been named to the Women’s Citizen Naismith Trophy Late Season Team.
UCLA will face No. 15 Oregon State (19-6, 10-4) and Oregon this weekend for an opportunity to separate itself from the pack.
“This is the week that matters,” Canada said.