No. 19 UCLA struggled through sluggish starts in its first three games of the season, rising in later minutes to close out wins. But coach Cori Close said a different factor was at work Friday, in their first loss, at the Gulf Coast Showcase: apathy.
The Bruins took an early lead in the first period, but Kent State battled back to keep the score close until the fourth quarter, when a Lindsey Thall three-pointer sparked a 9-0 run. UCLA went scoreless for almost four minutes and committed 13 of their 22 fouls in the frame, as the Golden Flashes held on for the 75-69 upending.
Close said the Bruins were “outcoached, out-hustled, out-rebounded and outplayed in almost every facet of the game.” She said the passion that the program is known for was missing.
“We have got to care about who we are and how we play,” Close said. “It comes down to whether or not we’re going to care about it and buck up and play like it. This is really hard to coach through because it’s not tactical. It’s a lot of other things besides tactical.”
“Playing your butt off and controlling the controllables is the price of admission when you put on a UCLA uniform. That’s got to mean something to you, and it didn’t mean enough to us.”
Strong defense, to anchor the offense if it stagnates, is a “non-negotiable,” according to Close. She said the Bruins’ lack of defense in the game was an indicator of their inconsistent work ethic and concentration.
“It goes back to habits and mindset,” Close said. “If you prepare every day in practice, you don’t have to prepare any differently for a game. You have to play hard all the time, and we have to have more of a gut check. We’ve got to have people who won’t let it happen.”
Charisma Osborne, who scored 21 points for UCLA after missing one game with an injury, said the team needs to better execute scouting reports.
“We got out-toughed in the game, and that’s on me, (and) that’s on everyone else,” she said.
In round two of the tournament tomorrow, the Bruins face South Dakota State. Close was the head coach of the U19 FIBA WorldCup team over the summer, and Jackrabbits coach Aaron Johnston was an assistant coach in the gold-medal winning effort. Close called Johnston “a superb coach,” and said both teams would be able to scout each other well due to the familiarity between coaches.
Ultimately, however, Close said that won’t be the difference in the game.
“Who we’re playing is the least of my worries,” she said. “I’m really worried about the lack of commitment to championship habits, how hard we played and the lack of heart we showed (in the loss).”
Close will rely on her veteran team, which includes Osborne and Jaelynn Penn, who scored 16 points against Kent State.
“I have confidence in our locker room leadership,” Close said. “They told the team that the coaches couldn’t do it – we have to do it.”
UCLA and the Jackrabbits tip off Saturday at 8 a.m. PT.