As the game wore on Sunday night in Pauley Pavilion, the image began to emerge of two teams in search of an elusive something.
For the UCLA women's basketball team, it is a quest for team identity, confidence and cohesion. For Tennessee, the defending national champion, it is a reclaiming of the aura of champions and some of the tenacity that took them there.
Top-ranked but much-besieged Tennessee (4-1) gained a measure of its goal. The Vols beat the Bruins, 89-63, after a disappointing first half. UCLA (2-3), playing well in front of a crowd of 1,059, is gaining confidence even as it is beaten by the country's top-ranked teams.
This may help in the long term, but are the Bruins taking a psychic beating now?
"Ask me at the end of January," UCLA Coach Billie Moore said. "We need to hang on to the positive things."
For Tennessee, there was not much positive to be taken from the game. It is believed that Tennessee has been overrated--that is, this team is not as good as the Tennessee team that won the national championship last season. The Vols belong somewhere in the top 10, but not on top.
They won't be when this week's poll is released. That will reflect Tennessee's 97-78 loss to Texas before 25,000 fans in Knoxville, Tenn., last week. The Longhorns will likely replace the Vols as No. 1.
"Definitely we should be ranked 4 or 5," Dawn Marsh of Tennessee said. "Texas came in and demolished us on our home floor. They did what they wanted to. We didn't know what to do."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said she thinks her team should be in the top 7, for the time being. "We're not going to concede anything," she said. "By March we are going to be a fine team."
The Vols appear to have depth and height, and the experience to see them through. They start three seniors and two juniors; the Bruins three sophomores, a junior and a senior.
It's hard to know which team was more surprised with its fortunes in the first half--UCLA that Tennessee was playing so poorly, or Tennessee that it was playing so poorly.
The Vols had a lead of 10 points at one juncture, but they could never shake off the Bruins and had a 38-35 lead at the half.
"Some of us were in the game and some of us were just going through the motions," Marsh said. The feisty guard was certainly not in the latter category. Her nose met Dora Dome's elbow late in the first half, giving Marsh a broken nose, her third.
Tennessee could not find an answer for Dome, who was overwhelming, hitting six of eight from the field and four of six from the line in the first half. She finished with a game-high 35 points.
The Vols, more intense in the second half, built their three-point lead into a 26-point advantage at the end.
A happy surprise for the Bruins was Michele Wootton, a guard who had not started a game but was pressed into service after Michelle Miles reinjured her knee in practice last Tuesday. Miles was undergoing arthroscopic surgery when last night's game began.
Wootton, a sophomore, had averaged 3.8 points and 3 rebounds coming off the bench. She was five of six from the field in the first half and one of one from the line.
Dome's dominance was both good and bad for UCLA: Good that Dome is an aggressive and sure shooter, bad that the Bruins must rely on her for two-thirds of the offensive output.
Moore pointed to the obvious: "I didn't think we did a good job of taking advantage of anything inside," she said. "We were shut down. Tonight we became a perimeter shooting team."
It is not going to be enough for the Bruins, and Moore at least, knows it.