Everyone in Bruin Nation and out knows about the struggles of the men’s basketball team these past couple of years – their win over cupcake (with all due respect) Prairie View A&M notwithstanding – very well.
However, what people may not know, besides their hardcore fans, is that while Ben Howland and his players continue to try and sort things out, UCLA’s women counterparts have been off the charts so far this year as unlike the men, these Lady Bruins are ranked in the AP poll, currently sitting at number 14 with a record of 7-1 after a last second layup from forward Jasmine Dixon beat St. John’s in overtime, 53-52, in the championship game of the St. John’s Holiday Classic in New York.
Coached by Cori Close, who is in her second season in Westwood after previous coach Nikki Caldwell left for LSU, the Bruins have good senior leadership with Alyssa Brewer, who at 6’3″ leads the team with ten rebounds a game and guard-forward Markel Walker, who’s the Bruins’ scoring leader at 15.1 points per contest and assists leader with 43 so far, as well as Dixon who’s also a senior.
These UCLA ladies have put together an excellent resume after eight games, beating then-11th ranked Oklahoma 86-80 on November 11 and then-12th ranked Texas 62-42 on December 8.
The significance of these wins is that they were both on the road, with the Texas win being in Reliant Stadium, which is home to the NFL’s Houston Texans.
Anyone who can beat two ranked teams on the road in front of hostile fans is not only someone to be reckoned with, but someone that needs to be paid attention to, which is why I’m giving these Bruin lady hoopsters some love as their play has been everything that their guy counterparts have not been – solid, steady, consistent, and exceeding expectations.
However, the biggest challenge for this UCLA women’s hoops squad will lie in the Pac-12 as two teams from that conference currently reside in the top ten – 9th ranked California, who like their younger UC sisters are 7-1, and the Bears’ Bay Area rival Stanford, who hasn’t done too much this year except give defending national champion Baylor, featuring their 6’8″ superwoman of a player Brittney Griner, their only loss this season and snapping their 42-game winning streak, the fifth longest in NCAA women’s history, and who at 9-0 happen to be the number one-ranked women’s basketball team in America.
To be honest, I think UCLA can give Cal a good battle and at least split their two scheduled games, but while I am hopeful, I’m also not realistic that these Lady Bruins can beat Stanford, at least at this particular time as the Cardinal women, who have played in several Final Fours in recent years, are at another level, a level in which UCLA’s women need to continue to work plenty hard to reach if they are to achieve what their male counterparts have achieved in their history.
But as Stanford has proved in beating Baylor earlier this year, games are played not on paper, but on the court.
And who knows? The way that the Lady Bruins have played so far this year, anything can happen.
I’m certainly looking forward to the start of the Pac-12 schedule in women’s hoops, to see if UCLA can continue their stellar performances and exceed expectations.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The UCLA Women’s Basketball team has moved up in the AP poll to 12th as of the week of December 17. California has moved up to 8th, and Stanford remains number one.