UCLA's Jasmine Dixon is Cooking Up A Winning Season
By Brian Price
As the #8 team in the nation, Jasmine Dixon is well aware that her Bruins enter every Pac-10 match-up with a bulls-eye on their backs.
Now, in the thick of their Pac-10 schedule, UCLA's 6-foot forward, loves playing in a conference with tough opponents from top to bottom. Even the teams with losing records can catch lightning in a bottle and look to end a losing streak against a ranked opponent.
"The rankings separate each team, but when we step on the court there's no separation," she says. "When we played Oregon State they came out and played a tremendous and close game against us. We're just thinking we've got to win while they're set on taking out one of the top teams in the Pac-10 and getting a highlight win on their season."
Dixon's ambition initially drew her away from her hometown of Long Beach, Calif., to the East Coast where she attended Rutgers University in New Jersey as a freshman.
"I felt that they were a program with potential and I wanted to be a part of getting them to the next level," Dixon says. "They'd been close to winning the NCAA's but never got there."
After her freshman year, however, Dixon found that she wasn't happy, and she felt a change was necessary. "I was ready to come home," she says.
Home was UCLA, where, after having built relationships with many of her current teammates from club basketball, Dixon knew she'd be entering a family atmosphere.
"Even before I officially transferred I felt comfortable. I adore the coaching staff and they went out of their way to let me know I'd play a role and be able to find my game as a player for UCLA," she says. "They weren't easy on me. They challenged me, but that's what I wanted."
Now, there are plenty of challenges to go around.
This season, playing in the Pac-10 raises the bar for everybody, even the officials. "The refs let you play on both ends of the court, as they like to see a good game just as much as the fans do," she says. "They don't call the little ticky-tack fouls. [They call a fair game] but they allow us to grind it out."
Thursday's contest between UCLA and the only other nationally-ranked Pac-10 team in the #4 Stanford Cardinal will undoubtedly be a bruising match up.
Both Stanford and UCLA are the only unbeaten teams in Pac-10 play. Additionally, this is UCLA's first game as a ranked squad against another top-10 team since 1999.
With a 15-1 start, the best Bruin start since 1976-77, emotions have been running high all season for UCLA. A sixth win against a Pac-10 foe will also match the best start to conference play for UCLA since they started 6-0 back in 2002-03.
"Our level of play has improved from last year. We're more focused and determined," says Dixon.
A 2010 All-Pac-10 selection and, currently, a player on the Wooden Award watch list, Dixon credits her team's grit for their successful season. The Bruins are ranked nationally in several categories from steals (3rd with 14.8), to turnover margin (4th with 8.31), and field goal percentage (16th with .452).
Dixon is resourceful on the court as the team's leading scorer (tied for first with 11.6 points per game with Darxia Morris) and rebounder with an average of 6.5 rebounds per game.
"We respect being a ranked team and are eager to live up to expectations," adds Dixon.
Not since 1999 have the Lady Bruins been ranked in the top-10 in both the AP and coaches' polls.
After getting off to a 10-0 start, which included a win over #12 Notre Dame, the Lady Bruins were cruising. However, on Dec. 28, they hit a speed bump with a 55-53 loss to unranked LSU. That loss may have set a bad tone for the Lady Bruins heading into their Pac-10 conference schedule, but the loss, according to Dixon, actually provided a lift.
"We entered the game lacking focus and intensity," Dixon says. "After we asked ourselves, 'What are we going to have to do from now on to avoid a loss like that in the future?' We came away a stronger and smarter team as a result and well aware that we could never lose our drive, like we did against LSU, again."
Off the court, Dixon and her teammates find multiple ways to stay loose and have some fun away from the game of basketball which, according to Dixon, includes movies (horror is her favorite genre) and bowling outings, video games (Call of Duty is a favorite of the team), and getting much needed rest (she lists sleeping as one her favorite hobbies).
But as for Dixon's true passion, other than basketball?
"I love to cook," she says.
A star in the kitchen as well as on the court, Dixon is able to cook for all 13 members of her team in one sitting and is undaunted by the challenge of cooking for a large group. "I like to share a meal with friends and it feels great when they tell me 'Jas, this is really good'," she says.
So what's her go-to dish?
"Chicken and shrimp alfredo is my personal favorite to both eat and prepare," Dixon says proudly.
On the court and in the kitchen Dixon's versatility has whipped up a lot of excitement. Her team is ready-and hungry-for the big game on Thursday.