UCLA women’s basketball aims to bounce back in Arizona matchups
Graduate student guard Jaelynn Penn crosses over on a defender during UCLA women’s basketball’s loss to Utah on Sunday. Penn has started all but one of the contests she’s played in this year in her first year as a Bruin. (Sarah Teng/Daily Bruin)
No. 12 Arizona
Thursday, 6 p.m.
Pac-12 Los Angeles
Saturday, 11 a.m.
Desert Financial Arena
Pac-12 Los Angeles
Feb. 24, 2022 2:03 a.m.
The Bruins are headed to the desert with a chance to end their winning drought.
UCLA women’s basketball (11-11, 6-8 Pac-12) is set to face No. 12 Arizona (19-5, 9-5) on Thursday and Arizona State (12-12, 4-7) on Saturday for its final two matchups of the regular season. The Bruins have sustained seven losses in their last nine games – including each of their last three contests – and will attempt to avoid finishing with a record under .500 for the first time in eight seasons.
UCLA has not had a consistent lineup the entire season because of injuries. While graduate student guard Jaelynn Penn and redshirt freshman forward Angela Dugalić have recently entered the lineup, junior guard Charisma Osborne sat out the latest game against Utah because of a persistent knee injury.
Junior guard Camryn Brown, who is just coming off of her third career ACL tear, said the team has adopted a short-term memory and resets after each game to not dwell on the frustrations of the year.
“We just keep looking day-by-day – what a great opportunity this is, especially some people who have battled injuries like me,” Brown said. “We just keep remembering what it felt like when we had to sit on the sidelines and watch, so we just keep bringing that perspective of, ‘Wow, … we get to play the game we love.'”
While the Bruins have encountered adversity and uncertainty this season, coach Cori Close said the coaching staff is focused on what is under its control.
The 11th-year coach said the upcoming game against Arizona is an opportunity for her team to rise to the occasion.
“With everything that’s happened, the ups and the downs, we get a chance to go to a great environment down in Tucson (and) to compete against a great team to go play and improve,” Close said. “That’s really our focus right now – getting ready for battle.”
In the last matchup between the two schools, UCLA hosted Arizona at Pauley Pavilion in a rescheduled contest that ended with a Wildcat victory. The Bruins jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and held the lead until halftime but couldn’t sustain momentum down the stretch.
This time around, Close said the team needs to focus on the importance of limiting turnovers because of Arizona’s ability to capitalize in transition. UCLA turned the ball over 15 times in the late January matchup.
“They shoot 70% in transition, so the best way to stop their transition game is to take care of the ball,” Close said. “They’re the best team in the conference in terms of their percentages when they get to the paint, so that’s going to be the number one priority – keeping them out of the paint.”
Unlike Arizona, UCLA has not competed against Arizona State this season after the teams’ Dec. 31 matchup at Pauley Pavilion was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. The Sun Devils sit at ninth place, just below the Bruins in the Pac-12 standings, meaning the game will impact the final conference standings.
The two teams met twice last season, with UCLA sweeping the season series. The Bruins won the games by a combined seven-point margin.
After beating two ranked opponents in a row to begin February, then-No. 19 Oregon and then-No. 6 Arizona, Arizona State is now coming off of four straight losses. However, each loss has come at a margin of seven points or fewer.
Penn, who is approaching potentially her last collegiate games, said the team knows it will have to overcome a hostile environment at both Arizona and Arizona State. The two schools have averaged 2 1/2 times and 1 1/2 the home spectator attendance as UCLA, respectively.
“The atmosphere, the refs, … we can’t control that, so it’s not where our focus goes,” Penn said. “It’s exciting to play this game and get to be in this great atmosphere.”
UCLA tips off against Arizona at 6 p.m. on Thursday and against Arizona State at 11 a.m. on Saturday.