In two out of three games this season, UCLA is looking like a second-half team. Given second choice after “40-minute team,” I’ll take second-half.
Fullerton got off to a quick start and an early lead, nailing several three-pointers to put them ahead 13-6 at 15:35. The Bruins then clawed back to within two, 15-17 at 9:47, but they were struggling; it took two rebounds to get the aforementioned basket.
It just seemed like UCLA was letting themselves get punked and pushed around by the aggressive Titans. It didn’t help that they couldn’t seem to buy a basket (first half shooting percentage was 34.4). And the main Caldwell ingredient was missing: rebounds. The Bruins weren’t getting them.
But they kept battling, and there were flashes of brilliance. One was when Moniquee Alexander and Allison Taka defended a guard so hard she stepped out of bounds; that was tasty. They went on a run and again came within two, 24-26, when a timeout was called. We applauded them.
I also noticed in the first half that when the Bruins got a steal or a turnover, they ended their fast break looking a little out of control. They need to work on that, but it was good enough to put them in the lead by one at halftime.
UCLA began the second half with another run, and by the 18:05 mark they were up 42-34. They never looked back. There were some pretty, pretty plays, and the Bruins began making their layups (second half shooting was 51.9 percent).
Something else that magically reappeared in the second was the rebounding. The Bruins became board monsters again, and at least twice there were plays where they got two or three rebounds in a row (which doesn’t say much for the shooting, but at least they’re hustling to remedy their mistakes).
Afterwards, Coach Nikki Caldwell sounded a lot like her mentor Pat Summitt when she said of the game that there were “some spots where we looked OK.”
“Our kids knew they had to press in the second half,” she said. “I challenged them (at the half) because Fullerton got after us on D and in running the transition game.
“I want to make sure we’re not getting it taken to us – we want to be taking it to them.”
Shadows of Summitt were also evident when Caldwell said that in the second half, her team was playing “Bruin basketball.”
I like it. I also really dig the balanced scoring attack. It’s a good sign.
Things I learned about Caldwell today: she’s not afraid to yank someone for the good of the team. She started Nina Earl at PG, and Erica Tukiainen was the back-up. Caldwell must have got pissed at Earl, because the first half was almost over and suddenly it was Tuki at PG and Taka backing her. Earl, Tierra Henderson, Tuki, Doreena Campbell and Chinyere Ibekwe started the game, but Christina Nzekwe and Alexander replaced Earl and Ibekwe to start the second.
There were a lot more people at today’s game, which was great, except a lot of them were Fullerton fans. I’m hoping that as word gets out about the Bruins’ wins, more people will show up.
The Ambience Award goes to the UCLA band, which each game starts a cheer that involved all four sides of the audience in saying: U! C! L! A! And today they also chanted “Right! Left! Right! Left!” each time three different Fullerton players fouled out. They probably wouldn’t have done it if the entire Titan bench hadn’t had the habit in the first of standing up and cheering wildly after their every basket.
I’ve always thought it cheesy to say “era.” So I’ll say this: the Caldwell gig is good so far.
Stanford lost to Baylor today!
Though I think Baylor is underrated and Stanford overrated, I’m still surprised by this, especially so early in the season. Two major upsets in the first weekend? Wow.
I met Tierra Henderson’s mother at halftime. A really cool woman who revealed that younger daughter Brittany just signed with Kentucky. Momma Henderson said Brittany “always wanted to play in the SEC,” and that she’s looking forward to making frequent trips to “a complete basketball town.”
It reminded me of Camille and Danielle LeNoir – two other D1-playing sisters. I would die of happiness if I had two major ball-playing daughters.