In the waning moments of the previous crosstown matchup, USC coach Michael Cooper could barely finish watching the game without thrusting his head into his palms.
It wasn’t a pretty sight for USC, as the Bruins stymied the opposing offense to just five field goals in the first half; the Women of Troy would finish the game shooting a miserable 28 percent.
The UCLA press smothered sharpshooters junior Ashley Corral and redshirt senior Jacki Gemelos, who never found a consistent rhythm. The two also combined for nine of USC’s 20 turnovers.
It is this same defensive pressure and intensity that the No. 10 Bruins (18-2, 8-1 Pac-10) seek to bring to the Galen Center during Sunday’s rematch.
Junior guard Briana Gilbreath, the leading scorer for the Women of Troy (13-7, 5-4), did not convert a single field goal in 12 attempts in the previous meeting. The length of junior guard Rebekah Gardner and redshirt sophomore forward Atonye Nyingifa forced Gilbreath into taking wild, contested jumpers.
“(Gilbreath) is definitely one of the better players that we have to focus on defending,” Gardner said. “If we are able to limit them, we’ll be able to disrupt what USC wants to do.”
The raucous crowd of 6,675 at Pauley Pavilion certainly helped in the first game between the two teams. The Women of Troy were hurried and could not play at a pace they were accustomed to, while the Bruins continued applying the suffocating defensive pressure.
It may be a more difficult task on the road.
“At home, the (Women of Troy) are definitely going to shoot a lot better,” UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said. “We have to make sure that we close out long and don’t let them get in a rhythm. If they make one, we can’t panic. We have to stay true to our closeouts.”
Offensively, the Bruins dominated in the paint in the January contest: Junior forward Jasmine Dixon posted 20 points and nine rebounds.
Dixon has seen double teams all year, but with her previous success against USC, practices have simulated a quicker double team on the block that would force the ball out of her hands.
“Every game I expect the trapping, so during practice (defenders) swarm to me at the ball, then I give my teammates the opportunity to spot up and shoot it,” Dixon said.
Bruins on the mend
Two UCLA players who have recently been sitting out will provide some extra ball-handling and opportunities to knock down open jumpers from outside.
Sophomore guard Mariah Williams, who missed Saturday’s game against Arizona with a sprained finger, will dress for Sunday’s game. Also available off the bench will be freshman guard Thea Lemberger, who has missed the last 13 games with a right shin injury.
With reports from Min Kang, Bruin Sports senior staff.