Tonight’s opponent at Pauley Pavilion will be one unlike any the UCLA women’s basketball team has seen this year. The Oregon Ducks are looking to score points ““ boatloads of them ““ and the Bruins better have their running shoes ready.
Coming off of back-to-back road wins, coach Nikki Caldwell is looking to lead her squad past a high-scoring Ducks (12-7, 3-4 Pac-10), the same one that knocked off the Bruins (12-6, 5-2) in Westwood one year ago. However, this Oregon team will have a different, run-and-gun feel about them. Led by new coach Paul Westhead, the Ducks’ lead the nation in scoring at a remarkable 85.6 points per game.
The key to UCLA’s success, then, will be taking the visitors out of their comfort zone by slowing the game down and forcing Oregon to execute in the half-court. From that point, Caldwell can let her team’s defense take over. That’s the plan, anyway.
“Defensively, transition defense is going to be key,” Caldwell said. “We can’t give them easy looks to the basket. We’re going to have to defend the dribble-drive, penetration and kickouts, and get a hand up.”
Patience is the name of the game on Thursday. The Bruins will need to rely on steady offensive execution to avoid falling into Oregon’s pattern of play, thereby giving the Ducks an advantage. Coming off an outstanding weekend against the Washington schools, forward Jasmine Dixon will be a focal point of the offense. Freshman Markel Walker, who has struggled offensively in recent games, will likely get her fair share of touches in the paint as well with UCLA looking to dictate a slower pace.
With the inevitable exhaustion that comes from defending the quick-strike Ducks comes the increased importance of bench production, something that Caldwell is more than confident in. UCLA’s bench play has been a major strength this season, helping keep key players fresh for end-of-game situations, and allowing the defense to be more aggressive with less concerns over foul trouble. Sophomore guard Rebekah Gardner has done so well as a substitute that she earned a starting spot in both games last weekend in Washington.
“Our bench is changing,” Caldwell said. “We have players who have earned their way into the starting role. The versatility of our bench gives us an advantage.”
Gardner, one of the team’s best shooters, has embraced her increased role.
“It’s definitely a different perspective,” Gardner said of her starting role. “You have to come out with a different mindset. Coming off the bench, you don’t want to let down all of the energy that is going on in the game. You want to bring that level higher.”
In addition to Gardner, the play of forward Christina Nzekwe has provided one of several bright spots of the bench for Caldwell. The junior from Seattle, Wash. is averaging just over three points per game, but it is her rebounding and defense that make her such a vital contributor in Caldwell’s eyes.
“I know Christina has been working extremely hard,” Caldwell said. “From her practice, she has gained the kind of confidence she has in the game.”
Nzekwe knows that shutting down Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State (9-8, 1-6) on Saturday will not be an easy task for the third place Bruins.
“With Oregon, they like to run. You have to slow them down and make them play half court,” Nzekwe said of Thursday’s opponent. “They’re putting up 80, 90, 100 points, so that means they are running a lot. Oregon State, they have shooters. You stop them, you disrupt the offense.”
The Beavers will face UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday in a match-up of extremely familiar foes. UCLA and Oregon State faced off three times last season, with the Bruins getting the upper hand and ousting the Beavers in the Pac-10 Tournament quarterfinals. Oregon State is a disappointing 1-6 team in the conference, but Caldwell isn’t about to let a poor record fool her team into thinking it might be an easy game.
“Oregon State is going to want to execute in the half court setting,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to mix up our defensive looks. We’ll try to do more full-court defense with them, and vary what we do in the half-court setting. They do a very good job of executing.”
The Beavers are led by Talisa Rhea, who is third in the conference in scoring, averaging 17.8 points per game. Caldwell believes that her team’s familiarity with Oregon State will help them in their approach to the game.
“When you’re familiar with personnel, it gives you an edge. It will determine how you’re playing. We played Oregon State three times, but this is a new year, a new team, and they have a different look to their team. Whatever team steps in here, our defensive philosophy cannot change.”
Not your average Saturday
In the hour before the game begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday, as well as the hour before the gymnastics meet at 2 p.m. on Sunday, shoe donations will be collected in an effort to provide for victims of the earthquake in Haiti with proper footwear.
There has also been a change in the process by which students can attend the games; instead of having to obtain a hard ticket at the Central Ticket Office, students now need only to show their student ID at Gate 2 of Pauley Pavilion to gain access.
Students wishing to sit on the floor can proceed to Section 211B where they can get a hard ticket. Additionally, pizza will be served to students on each Saturday home game for the duration of the season.