Senior Guards Lead UCLA Into NCAA Tournament
by Michelle Smith
UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell sat down in front of the microphone last weekend at the end of her team's run to the title game of the Pac-10 Tournament and her emotion was obvious.
Her eyes welled up and she took a moment to gather her thoughts, not because her team had lost to Stanford, but because of the young women that were sitting at her side.
Doreena Campell and Darxia Morris are the Bruins' senior guard tandem, the players who have helped to take a program that always seemed to have so much potential and turn it into one the national elite.
Campbell and Morris are experienced and talented basketball players, but to the coach, there's more to them than that. And Caldwell got misty-eyed realizing the time she has left with the backcourt mates is running short.
UCLA, which put up a school-best record of 27-4, opens the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed on Saturday against No. 14 seed Montana, in the first round in Spokane. Campbell and Morris will almost surely lead the way.
"You're not supposed to have favorites, but these two are two of my favorites probably that I've coached in my entire career," Caldwell said. "These two have meant so much, just taking on so much responsibility for the success of this program. It's them as people. The journey is short and we potentially have six more games. But I know it's coming to an end. So it's a joyful sorrow with these two."
Both guards were named All-Pac-10 performers after strong seasons. Morris finished as the team's leading scorer at 12.3 points a game, leads the team with 27 three-pointers and ranks second on the roster in assists and steals.
Campbell, the team's point guard and floor general, has started 124 games in her four-year career. She has played more minutes than anyone on the Bruins roster this season, leads the team in assists and free-throw shooting (.772) and ranks third in scoring at 9.2 points per game.
Morris is a Pasadena native who chose to stay and play close to home. Campbell, who was born in Germany, came to UCLA from Alexandria, Va.
Caldwell says that Campbell, a sure-handed floor leader and a tenacious defensive presence, is the quiet one.
"She doesn't say much, but when she does, there's a lot of wisdom that comes out of her mouth," Caldwell said.
Morris, on the other hand…
"Rex wants to be a rapper in her next life," Caldwell jokes.
Morris has a deft shooting touch and penchant to drive into the lane and get to the basket.
They have been centerpieces of UCLA's best-ever season along with junior post Jasmine Dixon, sophomore guard Markel Walker and a talented supporting cast.
UCLA achieved its highest-ever ranking this season and its most wins ever (16) in Pac-10 play. The No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament is also the program's highest.
Of its four losses this season, three of them are to No. 1-seed Stanford.
Caldwell brought about the change in Westwood, but Campbell and Morris executed it.
Morris and Caldwell were in the room when Caldwell was introduced as the UCLA coach three years ago. Both knew their careers were about to change after listening to the first-time head coach, who had played her career and spent many years coaching under Pat Summitt at Tennessee.
"At first, I was just intimidated," Morris said. "She came from a top-notch school. But we were excited. She knew what she wanted from this team and she did a good job. We did a good job following her."
Campbell said the program now moves forward with a drive and intensity that is reflected both in its coach and the players.
"She came in here and instilled discipline into us and hard work and the belief that we can do anything," Campbell said. "As long as we put the effort in and we put the time in, we can do it."