UCLA women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell deserves an award.
Not for coaching. But for being able to hold her tongue after USC women’s coach Michael Cooper apparently could not.
The last time UCLA and USC faced off, the Women of Troy defeated the Bruins 70-63 on USC’s home floor. But it was what happened after the game that has this rivalry at a point it hasn’t reached in years.
Cooper opened his postgame speech with an emphatic, “Fuck UCLA,” a comment that Caldwell never saw coming, but moreover, never considered responding to.
“We didn’t make a big deal about it,” Caldwell said. “He said what he had to say, and whatever he felt is what he felt. Our kids didn’t really know anything about the comment. It served no purpose in motivating or helping us.”
Eventually, the players did hear. However, reminiscent of their coach, they instead chose to take the high road.
“Of course, we took the comment personal, but he’s entitled to his own opinion,” sophomore forward Jasmine Dixon said. “That’s fine, we just in here doing what we do to get better and show them who’s best.”
But come Saturday, the Bruins will get their chance to quiet Cooper and the Women of Troy, when USC visits Pauley Pavilion to take on UCLA in what will be the crosstown rivals’ second matchup of the season, a game with crucial Pac-10 implications.
Last weekend, the Trojans were defeated by both Cal and No. 1 Stanford, and UCLA split with the Bay Area schools, losing to Stanford and then beating Cal. As a result, the Bruins have moved into sole possession of second place in the Pac-10. With a win Saturday, UCLA will have a commanding two-game lead over USC with the regular season heading toward its conclusion.
But back to Cooper’s comment.
Caldwell said she never recalled hearing anything like that when she coached at Tennessee, even with the heated rivalry with Connecticut.
What came to be the most confusing issue regarding Cooper’s comment was his motivation. Despite the intense nature of the UCLA-USC rivalry, the first game between the Bruins and Trojans contained no foul play. Moreover, Caldwell claims that she and Cooper have never had any bad blood between them.
Plus, the Trojans won.
“Fine, it’s been fine,” Caldwell said about her relationship with Cooper, the former Laker and Los Angeles Sparks head coach. “There’s no tension, there was no tension in the game. I mean, they did what they needed to do to beat us, and that was that.”
As far as the game goes, according to Caldwell, there are several areas that the Bruins need to shape up in, starting with the intangibles.
“We need to be the tougher team,” Caldwell said. “We can’t miss defensive assignments, we got to play smart. … And then we’ve got to rebound the basketball. You rebound the basketball, you control the tempo of the game.”
Caldwell also said that one area the Bruins cannot afford to falter in is the backcourt, as the Women of Troy rely mainly on their guard combo of Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath, who combined to score 43 points in the season’s first matchup. UCLA’s backcourt of juniors Doreena Campbell and Darxia Morris combined for 21 points.
“Offensively, we’ve got to have our kids knocking down shots,” Caldwell said. “Guard play’s got to be there because their strength is their guard play. Our guard play has got to step up.”