UCLA 66, Pepperdine 55…..and signees!

The bad news is that UCLA isn’t yet a 40-minute team. The good news is that they can still lead the game and win, even playing as poorly as they did at times last night.

The Bruins shot almost 38.7 percent in the first half and 47.6 in the second, and a dismal 0 percent for 3-shots in the first and 33.3 in the second. They had 23 turnovers to Pepperdine’s 17, and the Waves almost doubled UCLA’s steals.

But the Bruins beat their opponents on the boards, and at 50 for the game, they are still averaging above their 2007-08 rebounding percentage.

I brought my girls to the game, so arrived a couple minutes late to see UCLA already had the lead. That didn’t last long, however, as the Waves started their full-frontal attack – literally.

They unleashed a full-court press early in the first half, and generally played the Bruins very rough by pushing, elbowing and charging them. This wasn’t helped by the fact that UCLA couldn’t buy a basket, and there were some stanzas where they kept getting beat on defense. At a timeout late in the first half, Coach Nikki Caldwell walked all the way out to center court as her players were walking towards her, and either said something or just stared at them. She was not happy.

Doreena Campbell took the ball from half-court all the way to the rim for the score with 18 seconds left, and Tierra Henderson blocked a Waves shot to keep the score at 30-27 at the break.

The rebounding picked up in the first half and thank goodness, because the Bruins started with two missed free throws (they need to work on FTs) and two missed shots in a row – the first on a wide-open look.

Caldwell took junior center Moniquee Alexander out almost halfway into the second half. As she arrived at the bench, her coach stopped her and got really close to her face, using hand gestures to punctuate what she was saying. Alexander had a horrified look on her face. It’s no doubt because of the respect she has for Caldwell.

“It’s all about winning, and she reeks of excellence,” Alexander told an Orange County reporter last month (1).

Right after she expressed herself to Alexander, Caldwell began saying things to the bench – you know, when the coach sees something on the floor she doesn’t like and turns to the seated players and rails on about the mistake. I always get amused by that.

But shortly after that, the Bruins stepped it up on defense. Two trapped a Pepperdine player right in front of the UCLA bench, forcing her to lose the ball. Nina Earl scooped it up and took it in for the bucket, to our wild cheers. The Bruins also began a wicked full court press.

The offense also picked up a bit. Alexander redeemed herself with a nice spin move under the basket for the score, and Caldwell reacted by pumping her fist. Senior Chinyere Ibekwe had an amazing save, swatting the ball exactly to her teammate at she careened out of bounds on the baseline. The result was another bucket.

My seatmate Daniel asked, “Why weren’t we seeing that earlier – the attacking-style offense?”

Great question. It seems that it takes the Bruins a while to warm up sometimes, but I suspect that will change soon. Recent stories in the school newspaper, The Daily Bruin, paint a team that is happy with the changes their new coach has brought this year.

“It was like a breath of fresh air,” junior Erica Tukianien said. “You knew something was coming and something very good.

“She’s an educator, she’s a coach and she’s a role model. I have so much respect for her and I want to buy into the system. I want to follow her and I want to make sure the team gets together and that we are successful.” (2)

Those who followed former coach Kathy Oliver and have been to at least one Caldwell practice say the new coach uses a “tough love” approach focused on winning via discipline, with the long-term goal of winning a national championship. (1)

Caldwell has assigned players to a coach for monitoring, and she holds regular team meetings to keep communication lines open. If I hadn’t already been a fan, I would be now. I’ve always maintained that poor communication is the root of most of the worlds’ ills.

One thing that hardcore Tennessee fans like myself will appreciate: Caldwell has brought the towel tradition to Westwood. When a player goes into the game, she brings a towel to the player she’s replacing, handing it to her as she leaves the floor. A class and courtesy thing, courtesy of Pat Freaking Summitt.

A personal highlight of the evening was that I finally got to talk to sophomore forward Christina Nzekwe. As I’ve mentioned before, I coached her in track and field when she was a high school freshman, in Seattle. Christina is a sweetheart, and I was so proud when I first heard she’d signed two years ago.

She explained that the reason she wasn’t playing last night was that she’d sustained a concussion in practice Monday. She’ll be out for a week, which sucks, as I’ve so enjoyed her increased playing time. But by the time the Bruins come back Nov. 30, she should be ready to roll.

In other news, Caldwell inked her first two committments today: Markel Walker of Pittsburgh, PA and Mariah Williams of Aurora, CO. Walker, a forward, is ranked fourth by ESPN. Williams will become the team’s first shorter player, at 5’4″. In a news release, Caldwell said she is very quick and takes it to the rack. Full release:


Go, Caldwell. I’ve said it before: this team is going to do great things.

1. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/caldwell-player-team-2211633-olivier-vols
2. http://www.dailybruin.com/news/2008/nov/12/new-coachs-credo-shapes-teams-philosophy/