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Focus on passion plays drives UCLA women’s basketball toward weekend contests

Sophomore guard Londynn Jones shoots the ball on the court. Jones notched five points and three assists against the Utes in Salt Lake City. The second year is averaging 12.2 points on the year. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Women's Basketball


Washington
Friday, 7 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
Pac-12 Los Angeles
Washington State
Sunday, 1 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
PAC-12 NETWORKS

By Grace Whitaker

Jan. 25, 2024 2:12 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 25 at 11:23 p.m.

The women’s basketball programs that call the Pac-12 home have decided to put on a show in the conference’s final year.

With six teams in the top 25 – including UCLA, who currently leads the pack at No. 2 in the nation – each week presents a battle against NCAA tournament-level teams for the Bruins.

Though its next two opponents are unranked, No. 2 UCLA women’s basketball (15-2, 4-2 Pac-12) will endanger its home winning streak with contests against winning teams in Washington (12-5, 2-4) and Washington State (14-5, 3-3) on Friday and Sunday, respectively. UCLA has dropped two of its last three games, including losses to No. 11 USC and No. 16 Utah.

Sophomore guard Londynn Jones said the competitive nature of the Pac-12 further enables the team to stay in the moment.

“We have an amazing conference. We have a hard conference, a competitive conference,” Jones said. “There’s no days off when it comes to games. We have to go into every game like it’s a national championship.”

Sunday’s contest against Washington State will mark the first time the two programs have faced one another since the Cougars took down the Bruins in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game in March.

The Cougars are led by center Bella Murekatete and guard Charlisse Leger-Walker who scored 21 and 23 points, respectively, against the Bruins in their last meeting.

“Don’t think there’ll be any motivation problems for that game,” said coach Cori Close.

Amid the high levels of competition against whatever team sits on the other bench, UCLA turns to a competition within its own group week by week to further drive and joy.

That competition is the counting of what they refer to as “passion plays.”

The players listed off various individual marks that won’t show up on a stat sheet, including out of area rebounds, assist box outs and more. At practice Wednesday, Jones tipped a ball away from a player she was defending, then accelerated to obtain the loose possession and ran the length of the floor to nab the layup.

Her team and coaching staff then erupted into excitement about her passion play.

Sophomore forward Gabriela Jaquez said in addition to watching passion play highlight reels before every game, the team also gets extra excited when they see these plays in real time.

“It just makes it a lot more fun, and we’re a team that likes to have fun and joy,” Jaquez said. “They (the passion plays) just really emphasize us being disruptive on defense and making offense easier.”

As the team’s leader, Close said she is constantly balancing pushing her players but also finding moments of levity, like that of passion plays.

“At the top of all of our practice plans next to my initials is, ‘Struggle in joy,’” Close said. “The right balance of struggle and joy – and every week, that’s my job is to figure out, ‘Where are we?’ And today I needed to create some struggle.”

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Grace Whitaker | Sports senior staff
Whitaker is currently a senior staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
Whitaker is currently a senior staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
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