UCLA simply no match for Stanford

January, 21, 2011
01/21/11
9:41
AM ET

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is in this somewhat odd position a lot: talking up teams that her squad has every intention of going out and beating handily.

The Cardinal have consistently been at the top of the totem in the Pac-10 for so long that excitement bubbles anytime there's even a hint that they might be challenged. VanDerveer likes the idea that eyes are focused on the Pac-10 … but she still wants the result to be same old, same old.

While few realistically thought UCLA would go into Maples Pavilion on Thursday and end the Cardinal's 55-game home winning streak, a lot of folks really wanted to believe it could be a battle.

But it wasn't. The Cardinal won 64-38 with a score that could have been lifted from just about any other Stanford domination of any Pac-10 foe in any year. On paper, it was the nation's No. 4 team vs. No. 8 -- the first time these programs had ever met when both were in the top 10 -- but it didn't play out that way on the court.

Before the game, UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell conceded the obvious: The Bruins couldn't compete size-wise with Stanford but would still have to try to find a way to defeat the Cardinal.

"Your go-to [players] have to match their go-tos," Caldwell said. "You have to be able to cancel out certain things. You can't give them everything; you have to make a commitment on how you're going to play them."

That's a pragmatic -- and, I think, correct -- way to approach Stanford. But that doesn't mean it will work, no matter how committed you are to it. And it didn't work Thursday.

Stanford's go-to players did what they do at a high level. Kayla Pedersen had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Jeanette Pohlen had 14 points and four assists, Nneka Ogwumike had 13 points and Chiney Ogwumike had nine points and 11 rebounds.

Few teams in the country can match that kind of go-to power, and UCLA certainly couldn't Thursday. Jasmine Dixon was the only Bruin to score in double figures, with 12. UCLA came in shooting just better than 45 percent from the field this season but hit only 29.4 percent against Stanford.

So this wasn't the game that many hoped it would be. UCLA can view it as a type of reality check without letting it become discouraging. After all, this is a Stanford team that crushed Xavier at Maples late last month and then, two days later, ended UConn's 90-game winning streak.

Stanford hasn't lost at home since March 2007, when Florida State knocked the Cardinal out of the NCAA tournament. So the Bruins have to realize just what a powerful force they were trying to overcome at Maples.

By the same token, though, they also got a harsh lesson in how much they need to improve to be competitive with Stanford.

"It's interesting to see how far we've come since last year," Caldwell said prior to the game. "We seem to be turning the corner in terms of competing at a level of intensity that you have to have. Last year, we were the team trying to get the recognition of being nationally ranked. Now, as a staff, we're trying to make sure they understand, 'You're going to be the hunted as opposed to the hunter.' That's a different role for them."

Against Stanford, though, the Bruins were still in the same old position: trying to pull an upset. They'll get another chance Feb. 20, when Stanford visits UCLA.

VanDerveer will, most certainly, talk before that game about the Bruins' improvement and their climb in the Pac-10. But it will be up to UCLA to prove if the Bruins really are getting closer to where Stanford has been for a long, long time.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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