To put it bluntly, it was not a good weekend in the world of UCLA basketball.
A day after Ben Howland’s squad lost in embarrassing fashion to the Trojans in Pauley Pavilion, Nikki Caldwell’s team came up short against crosstown rival USC at the Galen Center, losing 70-63 in a game riddled with mistakes by the Bruins.
Although UCLA out-rebounded the Women of Troy and shot better from the field, the Bruins’ inability to convert at the free-throw line, combined with numerous costly turnovers, eventually proved too much for them to overcome.
The Bruins shot 9-for-20 from the foul line, as opposed to a USC squad that converted 24-of-27 from the line. In addition, UCLA amassed 18 turnovers which turned into 24 points for the Women of Troy. The Bruins only tallied 11 points off of 11 USC turnovers.
After Sunday’s loss, a disappointed Caldwell expressed her concern not only over her Bruins’ inability to execute offensively, but about her team’s lack of focus and apparent struggles with a lack of leadership.
“I’m really worried more so about the mentality of this team, I think it starts there,” Caldwell said. “I think you have to have leadership, particularly from your upperclassmen, and obviously that’s something that we’re really struggling with right now. We keep breaking down in areas we don’t in practice.”
According to Caldwell, two of those upperclassmen who she looks to to lead her young Bruin squad are junior guards Doreena Campbell and Darxia Morris. But on Sunday, the backcourt duo fell well short of duplicating the outstanding performance they had against the Stanford Cardinal last week, combining for 21 points on 7-for-21 shooting from the field, and only tallying five assists as opposed to nine turnovers.
“We got to look at our guard play … when those two struggle, we’re going to struggle,” Caldwell said. “I think they’ve got to really take a look at what they’re going to bring to this team and what we can consistently count on from them. They get all the big-time minutes so they’re going to have responsibility.”
“She wants vocal leaders, someone to lead by example and own up to her mistakes,” senior guard Erika Tukiainen said after Sunday’s loss. “She wants someone to take responsibility for their own actions and at the same time, make sure the other teammates are doing what they’re supposed to do. Really someone to be the coach on the floor.”
Leading the way for the Bruins on the offensive end was Tukiainen, who went 4-for-7 from 3-point range and scored 14 points.
But even according to Tukiainen, UCLA has not been playing at the top of its game lately, mostly hurting themselves with sloppy play and not being able to capitalize on crucial opportunities.
“We’re not doing those little fundamental things that allow great teams to win,” Tukiainen said. “We’re not boxing out, we have too many turnovers, and we’re not making our free throws and layups. And that’s something that’s in our own control. That’s something that the coaches can’t teach you.”