A tale of two teams: No. 2 Stanford dominates UCLA, 76-48

Lexie Hull drives around the UCLA defense into the paint. AP photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez.

Los Angeles – No. 2 Stanford dominated UCLA Thursday, 76-48, in a game that showcased two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum.

The reigning national champion Cardinal, who returned all but one from last season, were missing starters Haley Jones and Hannah Jump, due to health and safety protocols. But 11 played, and all but one scored. Both guards and posts combined for 45.5 percent shooting on the day, and 42.3 percent from the three-point line, and they easily out-rebounded their hosts, 47-34.

But the short-handed Bruins were stifled most by the intimidating defense of Stanford, which has 11 players listed as 6 feet or more. They used their length to limit UCLA to 31.7 percent shooting, while they ran their own sets at will and outscored them in the paint, 32-12.

“We took care of the ball, we limited turnovers and we outrebounded a team that rebounds really well,” Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I thought we ran well….it was a total team effort, and we got a lot of different contributions from different people. Everybody played.”

Fran Belibi, who came off the bench to start, led the team with 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Cameron Brink added 17 points and Lexie Hull, 14 points and 10 rebounds.

An experienced team whose core has played together for a while, Stanford looked the part with crisp ball movement and unmatched fluidity. Belibi said their familiarity with one another is one of their strengths.

“Knowing what people like to do and how they like to get their shots definitely helps with how we play with each other,” she said. “Being able to play together the last three years, we know where each other is and we know what each other likes.”

Hull said the health of the team is also a factor in their 17-3 record on the year.

“It comes back to our depth,” she said. “We can tire out other teams when they’re subbing. I think that’s a big upside to our team, is how long and how hard we can go.”

Belibi said the large roster has made for a kind of interchangeability is a bonus.

“As a team, we have a next-woman up mentality,” she said. “Regardless of who’s out, it’s kind of, next person up, next player. We can all contribute, no matter who we’re playing.”

The Bruins fought through adversity with eight players in 2020-2021, but have been decimated by injuries this season, and fell out of the rankings in November for the first time since 2015. The latest blow came a week ago when leading scorer Charisma Osborne sustained a knee injury against Arizona. She missed a game and returned to the lineup against the Cardinal, but lacked her usual explosiveness, and scored just 12 points.

UCLA coach Cori Close said Osborne showed “incredible character” in taking the floor, but acknowledged that the junior standout has lingering effects from the injury.

“She’s not 100 percent, and she won’t be for the rest of the year,” Close said. “She has made a choice that she wants to fight through for her team, and she’ll deal with how to get long-term healing after the season.”

“It just shows her competitive spirit, her desire to be there for her team, and it shows how much she loves this game.”

Besides Osborne, only Natalie Chou, with 11, and Chantal Horvat, with 10, scored in double figures for the eight-woman rotation. Close said she was disappointed in the effort.

“We need to take responsibility for the way we didn’t show up for each other. They let each other down,” Close said. “We have to examine our commitment, our competitive spirit, and what we can count on from each individual. Tonight we have to take responsibility for how we didn’t have each other’s backs, and that’s hard to swallow.”

For as well as the Cardinal played, Hall of Famer VanDerveer still sees room for improvement as they prepare to defend their title.

“The main thing is we could be much more aggressive defensively, we could force more turnovers, we could get out in transition more, and we could run our offense better,” she said. “We have people who play really hard. I’m excited about how well we’re playing, but there is more that we could do.”