By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
In preparation for No. 3 Baylor women’s basketball’s top 10 road matchup with No. 8 UCLA in Los Angeles, Calif., the Lariat spoke with Ryan Smith, assistant sports editor for the Daily Bruin. Smith said that he believes after suffering an 84-70 loss at the hands of the Lady Bears last year in Waco, the Bruins have the size to remedy the situation as the series now turns to Pauley Pavilion.
Q: How did playing Baylor last year help prepare UCLA for this year’s meeting? What did the Bruins learn about the Bears in last year’s defeat?
A: The biggest issue for UCLA in last year’s matchup was their inability to grab rebounds. Baylor had 20 offensive rebounds while the Bruins had 25 total. However, UCLA was relying heavily on Monique Billings to carry the load down low last season, and now they have a much deeper front court with the additions of freshmen Lauryn Miller and Michaela Onyenwere. The Bruins are also aware of what Kalani Brown can do, after she dropped 25 points and 19 rebounds on their heads a season ago. I expect head coach Close and her staff have put emphasis on making sure their players know to keep tabs on her at all times. Lastly, UCLA has four of its five starters back from 2016, so I’m sure they have a general idea of what to expect from Baylor a second time around. That should make things a bit easier for them mentally.
Q: Baylor has tremendous size inside with Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox, both of whom are excellent passers as well. How does UCLA intend to defend the paint to limit their success?
A: The Bruins may not have the tallest lineup in the country, but they make up for their lack of height with active hands and long arms. With Kennedy Burke and Monique Billings patrolling the low blocks, UCLA has been good at keeping opponents out of the paint. Obviously Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox have size that the Bruins do not see on a regular basis, so it will be interesting to see how UCLA handles the mismatch down low. I would expect some double teams early in the game, but if that does not work, the Bruins might be out of luck defensively.
Q: Senior guard Jordin Canada is a pivotal piece to UCLA’s success. What makes her so special? How does Baylor contain her?
A: Jordin Canada is an unbelievable player, and an even better on-court leader. She makes plays that leave you speechless time and time again, but she also gets her teammates involved at every opportunity. On defense, Jordin has great anticipation skills, and she has a knack for always being in the right passing lanes at the right time. Overall, she is the tone setter, and the Bruins feed off of her play. If Baylor wants to contain her, they will have to slow the pace of play down, control possession and leave her limited space to create. However, that is a lot easier said than done.
Q: How big a factor will the atmosphere at Pauley Pavillon be for the Bruins’ energy but also as a disruption for an extremely young Baylor team?
A: Pauley Pavilion has been a huge factor in UCLA’s success in recent years. The crowd is always having a good time and the players feed off of their energy. The Bruins have also won 31 consecutive home games, which is the second longest active streak in the nation behind UConn. For a team as young as Baylor, having to travel across the country and then play in an environment like this can be daunting for sure, but they are a talented group and I’m sure they will put together a strong effort.
Q: What is the key matchup to watch? How does UCLA win this game? Prediction?
A: Definitely watch out for the bigs. For UCLA, Monique Billings and Michaela Onyenwere are going to have to be at the top of their game if they want to knock off a team as strong as Baylor. Kalani Brown gave the Bruins fits last season, so I fully expect her to come out with some fire of her own. Also, Jordin Canada has been dealing with a knee injury she sustained this past weekend, so keep an eye out for whether or not she looks 100 percent. At the end of the day, however, I do think UCLA wins this game. It will be a packed house on a Saturday afternoon and Pauley is going to be electric. Last year, the Bruins took a seven-point lead into the half at Baylor, but went ice cold the rest of the way and could not hold on. I don’t think that happens this time around. 68-62, UCLA wins.