The Bruins smell revenge around the corner.
No. 8 UCLA women’s basketball (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) will get a shot at redemption against No. 3 Baylor (3-0, 0-0 Big-12) on Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion in a nonconference rematch from last season. Although leading 48-41 at half, the Bruins fell to the Bears 84-70 around the same time last year at the Ferrell Center.
For UCLA senior forward Monique Billings, a returning starter from last season, the spotlight of this game is no different.
“That loss just hurt,” Billings said. “Just remembering that bitter feeling I had in my mouth after the game … it’s making me anticipate this weekend. I’m really excited and just ready for some revenge.”
Although both teams lost some contributors from last year’s roster, they also recruited and developed new talent.
UCLA had four freshmen combine for 44 points off the bench in the Bruins’ record-breaking 129-point performance in their season opener against San Jose State, including McDonald’s All-American forward Michaela Onyenwere, who notched a double-double in points and rebounds.
With another big win against Presbyterian last weekend, the Bruins are focused on capitalizing off of the momentum.
“We translate that (momentum) to practice every day, working on being aggressive and just working as a team so we can be successful in this game,” Onyenwere said. “Both of those games were teaching moments for us even though they were big wins.”
Baylor, on the other hand, will showcase their size and inside dominance with 6-foot-7-inch center Kalani Brown and 6-foot-4-inch forward Lauren Cox. In last year’s game, Brown exploded off the bench with 25 points, missing just three of her 15 shots.
“We had a really good shooting game in the first half, but they dominated the paint and came back in the second,” coach Cori Close said. “It’s all before us, but it’s gonna be about how much we’ve learned.”
Together, Brown and Cox are a powerhouse in the paint. So far this season in their first three games, the duo has combined to average 38.7 points per game and 23.3 rebounds per game.
Close explained that this game will need to be a defensive team effort.
“It’s not one person’s job,” Close said. “(Brown) wants to get to that block facing the basket on the left side of the floor so she can really drop step and use her left hand. It’s gonna be about trying to limit how she gets from spot to spot.”
Close emphasized if the Bruins can force well-contested shots without rotation, it will limit the two bigs’ offensive rebounding angles, and that individual one-on-one defense will be vital in slowing them down.
“We talked yesterday in the locker room just about throwing the first punch,” said Billings. “Then they are going to throw their punch, but we have to be able to counter that and throw yet another punch.”
Tomorrow will be a test for both teams to gauge where they are thus far. This will also be the first top-10 matchup for either team this season.
However, this time the Bruins will feed off of a home crowd.
“It will be nice, just having our fans,” Billings said. “Personally my family comes to the game so it’s always nice to see them.”