2016 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament: 'Workwoman's approach' fuels process-minded UCLA to semifinals
SEATTLE – Judging by UCLA’s recent play, included in which is a 72-51 win Friday over Arizona in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, the Bruins are looking like a team that can win the Pac-12 tourney and play deep into March.
Just don’t plan on getting into a conversation with the Bruins about it.
“If you have one eye on the goal, then you only have one eye on the process, and we need both eyes on our process every single day,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said, referring to a quote from a book the team read over the holiday break. “I think it’s a useless conversation for us if we’re not just focused on getting better every day. I think that’s how you reach your peak in March is that you just have a consistent focus on improvement.”
The Bruins were certainly focused on the process Friday, starting a 10-0 run midway through the first quarter that gave third-seeded UCLA a lead it would never relinquish. Simply put, UCLA got the job done – it brought the lunch pail to Key Arena, clocked in and clocked out.
“I just think it was a very workwoman’s approach today in this game. I told our team in the locker room you put your hard hats on and you say ‘Hey, I’m committed to excellence,’” Close said. “It was a very business-like approach, and I like the habits that they’re forming and the way that they prepare.”
While UCLA has been consistently good all season, the Bruins have turned it up a notch since the middle of January. Including Friday’s triumph over the Wildcats, UCLA has won 12 of its last 14 games and seven of its last eight. It entered the tournament coming off a 74-61 win over Arizona State that denied the Sun Devils sole possession of the Pac-12 regular-season crown.
And oh yeah, the Bruins have also beaten Stanford and Oregon State… by 20 apiece.
The Bruins have especially gotten it done on the defensive end of the floor, holding each of their last four opponents below 40 percent from the field and each of their last eight opponents below their regular-season scoring average. Putting the biscuit in the basket is fun, but getting it done on the other end is what has helped UCLA win the late-season surge.
“Anybody who does their homework about teams who play well in March, they control it with defense and rebounding,” Close said. “I just think that as the year has gone on, week by week, we have gotten more and more bought in to getting stops first and controlling rebounds first and then we can play the way we want to play on offense.”
Up next for the Bruins is a surging Cal team that upset Arizona State 75-64 Friday to become the first No. 10 seed to advance to the semis of the women’s tournament. UCLA split the season series with Cal this year, including an instant-classic 108-104 double-overtime loss in a non-conference December contest.
“That was a really intense game. That was a long time ago,” said UCLA forward Monique Billings, who contributed 18 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and four steals in Friday’s quarterfinal triumph. “We match well with them, I’d say. They have good guards, good posts; so do we. So I think we’re excited and ready for a good game.”
For Cori Close, the semifinal against the Golden Bears is just another step in the process.
“We get a chance to prepare again, and I’m proud to coach this team,” Close said. “I like where they’re at emotionally and mentally, and we’re just going to keep enjoying the process.”
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