The Bruins will get a chance to play the top-ranked team in the NCAA this week.
Although the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal have led the nation this season both offensively and defensively, coach Amanda Cromwell said the two teams share several similarities.
“With Stanford, we know we play similarly so it makes for an interesting game,” Cromwell said. “We have similar personality players as far as really good attacking players that can finish and are dynamic. It’s a matter of who can dictate play and who can defend the best in the key moments of the game.”
No. 6 UCLA (13-1-2, 6-1-1 Pac-12) hosts No. 1 Stanford (15-1-0, 8-0-0) after dropping from second to sixth in the rankings this week.
“We were looking at the stats side-by-side and they’re near identical,” said sophomore defender Kaiya McCullough. “So it’s going to be interesting playing a team that’s so similar to us. The way they play, their personnel, their formation – it’s almost mirror image.”
The Cardinal head to Westwood with a 13-game winning streak. Their most recent loss came at the hands of then-No. 8 Florida in August, and Stanford has scored 54 times since then.
Forward Catarina Macario of the Cardinal leads the Pac-12 in shots per game and total points, followed by Bruin junior forward Hailie Mace. Macario is also first in assists and assists per game, with the UCLA freshman forward Ashley Sanchez behind her.
“We’re really threatening up top,” said junior forward Julia Hernandez. “We have speedy players and strength up there. Hailie (Mace) and Ashley (Sanchez), they’re having such good games … so getting them in good spots I think is one of our strengths.”
Meanwhile, Mace leads the conference in goals and goals per game so far this season, with Stanford forward Kyra Carusa trailing behind in second.
“They have a lot of really good attacking players,” McCullough said. “Just collectively being together in a solid defensive shape and working together to win the ball back, I think is going to be one of our bigger challenges.”
Stanford has logged victories in its last two matches against UCLA, winning 3-2 in double overtime last season at Drake Stadium.
With the regular season wrapping up, these next games will have a large bearing on determining the league champion. Stanford currently leads the Pac-12, followed by USC and UCLA in the second and third slots.
“It’s really about big players stepping up in the big games and this is a big game,” Cromwell said.
The coach listed sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming, Sanchez and Mace as three players who have done just that.
“(Sanchez) on the ball has been really good – her assist to Hailie was elite-level with the weight of the pass and the timing,” Cromwell said. “I think (Mace), (Sanchez) and (Fleming), if they exert their presence on this game and dominate, it’s going to be hard from them to defend us.”
The Cardinal have been a formidable defensive force this season, giving up the least amount of goals in the conference with five total. Their 13 shutouts lead the Pac-12 and put them in second place nationally.
Cromwell said her team has righted the ship after their first loss of the season against Washington State last week.
“Some of the play we had (against Washington) was really good,” Cromwell said. “The movement off the ball was really good, and if we play quickly, we can make it very hard for other teams.”