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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Bruins’ press a mystery

Montana’s Alyssa Smith tries to keep the ball from UCLA’s Markel Walker during the Bruins’ win Saturday. (Associated Press)
Montana’s Alyssa Smith tries to keep the ball from UCLA’s Markel Walker during the Bruins’ win Saturday. (Associated Press)

UCLA is going to slap on a full-court press on Gonzaga tonight in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

What the Bulldogs don’t know is exactly what kind of press the Bruins will employ.

Neither do the Bruins.

“Typically it’s whatever they want at the time,” UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said of her players, without the slightest hint of frustration. “When they’re in the mood to trap, they’re good. There are times when they’re not in the mood and we have to go to our delay defense. We kind of give them the freedom to play either one because both have been successful for us.

“(That) makes the offensive player have to guess a little bit and it keeps you off balance. I just kind of go with them. … As long as we’re not confused, I don’t care.”

Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves knows the difference.

“They’re not always an in-your-face defense. … They let you come to them and wait for you to make a mistake,” he said. “They are very good at then attacking the basketball.

“Some of it is tempo-based. They want you to use time in the back court, then you don’t have as much time against that zone. Typically zones, it takes you a few extra passes to get the shot you want.”

UCLA players also have another unique defensive twist, Caldwell said.

“We have defensive goals every game, in our transition game, in our half-court game and in our board play,” she said. “Each game is different. We look at where we’re breaking down, who’s breaking down.

“If you make back-to-back mistakes on the defensive end, the team came up with this, that player needs to be sat down.”

Uncharted territory

Gonzaga point guard Courtney Vandersloot made national headlines a month ago when she became the fourth woman to surpass 1,000 assists, and then another countdown began – the quest to reach 2,000 points, which would make her the first in NCAA history with those two milestones.

“I’m not sure how many people even know about that,” Graves said. “I guarantee you Courtney will not be counting it down in her head. She wants one thing and those that know Courtney know there is only one goal for her tomorrow and that’s to win the game. If she goes scoreless she would be fine with that as long as we win.”

After her 34-point performance against Iowa she is 10 points from 2,000, a fact that escaped her.

“It doesn’t mean as much as the win,” she said. “My team needed a few of us to step up tonight and we were able to do that. If I score zero points, it doesn’t matter as long as we win.”

Someone in the sellout crowd will be counting and there will be a cheer, but that’s about it.

“It’s an NCAA tournament game so they wouldn’t stop the game,” Graves said. “They’re not going to make a big deal of it. We’re obviously pulling for here. Any time you can say ‘only ever,’ those are two pretty good words.”

No hostility

UCLA insists a hostile crowd isn’t going to be a problem.

“It’s not the fans out there playing, so that’s not going to make a difference,” guard Jasmine Dixon said. “It’s the 5-on-5 matchups that are going to win the game. The fans won’t distract us.”

Her coach agreed.

“That’s what March Madness is about, playing on the road,” Caldwell said. “Fans don’t sweat, fans don’t rebound, nor do fans make plays. It’s going to come down to who executes their game plan to the best of their ability.

“If you’re in that competitive zone, you don’t hear the fans when you’re on the floor. Half the time they don’t even hear me. Ten fans or 10,000 fans, it shouldn’t alter how you play.”

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