Defense, depth carries Cardinal to win at No. 10 UCLA
It was the first "it wasn't pretty, but it was gritty" win of the season for No. 1 Stanford. The Cardinal (7-0) only trailed for 23 seconds of the 61-49 win at No. 10 UCLA, and they overcame 15 turnovers with lockdown defense and a plus-14 margin in rebounding.
A double-digit win over a top-10 opponent isn't easy and on the same day that Oregon escaped disaster versus Washington State, and a couple days after Colorado nearly beat Arizona, it's worth noting wins aren't easy right now.
UCLA plays an aggressive style of defense and head coach Cori Close's group isn't shy about swiping at the ball every chance they get. The Cardinal attempted multiple unwise, high-risk passes that head coach Tara VanDerveer attributed to a "casual" approach by the team at times.
Cameron Brink and Fran Belibi steadied the Cardinal offense in the second half — scoring 18 of the team's 30 points — and they provided the two highlight plays of the game. For the second time in three games Belibi threw down a dunk.
Brink flew through the air for one of her three blocks when UCLA hoped to finally get back within a possession after the Bruins were stuck at a five-point deficit multiple times. Stanford had 10 blocks in the game — Belibi and Haley Jones also had three each.
Jones grabbed 15 rebounds, had three assists and only one turnover in a game where the Cardinal were very charitable in the final game before Christmas and the end of the year. Jones and Lexie Hull also both missed a remarkable and highly unusual number of open looks that ranged from layups to eight missed three-point attempts by Hull.
The abnormal shooting game was a disease that affected normally dependable players on both teams. For the Cardinal, the sound of clank after clank from shots bouncing off the rim was a regular reminder that the past three weeks have been far from ideal to establish a rhythm.
Stanford made only 13-of-29 shots categorized as layups but still managed to outscore UCLA 34-22 in the paint in large part because of the efforts of Belibi and Brink. Despite the 15 turnovers, the Cardinal also had 18 assists — there were plenty of examples of good ball movement to go along with the misfires.
Anna Wilson had a strong game and was part part of an overall impressive defensive effort to limit UCLA to 49 points.
The Cardinal played with laudable energy on the defensive end and in defensive rebounding from the jump, and that combination was the most important reason Stanford led 21-12 after the first 10 minutes.
The team will get some time off this upcoming week but will not be back in Santa Clara County. They also plan to go to Arizona Dec. 27 for the Jan. 1 game to get back to work after taking a break from official practices.