Pac-12 NCAA Feature: What UCLA has to do to stop UConn
UCLA is all business as they prepare for one of the toughest tasks in sports – knocking the Connecticut women’s basketball team out of the NCAA Tournament brackets.
The Bruins, a No. 4 seed, are headed to Bridgeport for their second trip to the Sweet 16 in as many seasons, against the vaunted Huskies – who are 34-0 this season and owners of an NCAA record 109-game winning streak – in their sights.
“We are not looking at it like UConn is next, we are talking about how the Sweet 16 is next,” said UCLA coach Cori Close. “They are such a great team, with such a great culture of consistency, but I really like our team. I like what we do. The way I look at it, this is what they do and this is what we do. Let’s play and see what happens.”
UCLA comes into this game as a significant underdog and also a team coming off two dominant NCAA wins against Boise State and Texas A&M, a 32-point win that was the Bruins largest NCAA margin in program history.
Junior point guard Jordin Canada is among the nation’s best ball distributors, one of its most dogged defenders and a consistent scoring threat. She has double-doubles in each of the Bruins first two tournament games. Senior post Monique Billings is long, athletic and Kari Korver is coming off one of her best perimeter shooting performances of her career (7-of-10 from beyond the arc). Sophomore Kennedy Burke is an impact player.
Close likes the matchup.
“Really, we have a lot of strengths that aren’t going to be easy for them to deal with,” Close said. “One of the things we struggle with are big, physical posts and they don’t have one of those. The matchup is good for us. Obviously, we are going to have to play our best basketball to win.”
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer knows as much about beating Connecticut as anyone.
The Cardinal have collected three wins over the Huskies since 2008 and they ended the Huskies’ last two long winning streaks, the 90-game winning streak at Maples Pavilion back in December 2010 and a 47-game winning streak at Maples Pavilion in 2014.
That was Connecticut’s last loss.
“If she asks me, I will tell her what I would do,” VanDerveer said. “I would start by telling your team, you are playing ‘U Can, not UConn’.”
VanDerveer said she thinks UCLA has the right personnel to push the Huskies.
“Connecticut isn’t a team this year with three first-round WNBA Draft picks,” VanDerveer said. “They are a young team, they have played close games and Cori has a great team with really good players to match up with them.”
VanDerveer said she thinks having Oregon in Bridgeport will make UCLA feel comfortable.
“I don’t think they are thinking ‘Oh god, we have to go to Bridgeport’,” VanDerveer said. “I think they will look around, see Oregon there and think ‘OK, we’ve got two Pac-12 teams here. Let’s get to work.’”
UCLA’s mental game will be as important as what happens on the floor, Close said.
“The Xs and Os are the easy part. It’s about getting a team to execute and carry that out over four quarters,” Close said. “We don’t need motivation in this game. We need preparation and process.”
And they need to stay with the Huskies, who can quickly put a team away with a big run.
“We can’t have that big chasm, where we don’t get stops and we don’t score,” Close said, whose team would reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 1999 with a win. “It’s important that we don’t dig ourselves a big hole.
“I am really confident in our team and what we’ve done all year.”
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.
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