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Stephens Takes Charge for Bruins

November 22, 1990|RAY RIPTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stop Rehema Stephens and you stop the UCLA women's basketball team. That's what some benighted opponents try to do.

There's only one thing wrong with that notion: It doesn't work.

Her mother tried to stop her when she was an All-American at Oakland Technical High. She didn't object to her daughter's high school games, only to all the pick-up games she played in her free time against men and boys at the neighborhood playground.

"I enjoy everything about basketball," she said. "There wasn't a time in high school that I didn't play basketball.

"My mom hoped I would do more girl things and not just hang around the corner with the guys. But she realized I had potential, so she let me be who I was."

It was a good thing for UCLA basketball that her mother didn't try to rein her in. Last season was the first as a Bruin for Stephens, a transfer from the University of Colorado. And she enjoyed it a lot, leading UCLA to the NCAA playoffs for the first time since the 1984-85 season.

She averaged 20.1 points a game and became the first UCLA player to lead the Pacific 10 Conference in scoring since women's basketball became a conference sport five years ago.

Her 583 points was the sixth-best season total in school history and the second best by a Bruin in her first season. Only UCLA career scoring leader Denise Curry had more points in her first season. Curry, who set a national record by scoring in double figures in each of her 130 games at UCLA, scored 610 points as a freshman in the 1977-78 season, when UCLA played in the old Women's Collegiate Athletic Assn.

UCLA Coach Billie Moore said: "There is no question (that Stephens) can score any time she wants. The thing I've appreciated is her commitment to make everybody around her better."

Moore, whose team opens the season Saturday against Iowa in the Amana Hawkeye-Classic tournament, said that some teams designed special defenses for Stephens last season and "that will continue to happen. That's the price one pays when you're that good."

But she added that teams that key on Stephens also pay a price.

"If you're going to double-team her, we do some things to make sure she gets the ball," Moore said.

She said that the 5-foot-11 junior guard is so effective with the ball that she can go to the basket almost any time she wants to. And teams that thought only about stopping Stephens last season wound up losing, Moore said.

"I'm confident enough that, if I get the ball, something is going to happen," Stephens said. "If I don't get the ball, I'm going to be somewhere near it. I don't think it's crucial that I touch it, but in most cases I do."

It's a good thing for the Bruins that Stephens got the ball a lot last season, otherwise UCLA might not have gone to the NCAA tournament. The Bruins lost a first-round regional game to Arkansas in overtime. Arkansas lost in that regional final to eventual NCAA champion Stanford.

Although the Bruins finished 17-11, the team had to overcome the loss for the season of two starters, center Molly Tideback and forward Elaine Youngs, and backup point guard Michelle Miles.

Tideback played five games last season and transferred to the University of Iowa. She won't be eligible to play for Iowa until January. Youngs played only six games, injured a knee and was lost for the season. Also a top UCLA volleyball player, Youngs had knee surgery last summer, did not play volleyball this season and will not play basketball this season.

Miles left school and returned to her home in Colorado.

The loss of the three experienced players put a lot of pressure on Stephens, starting point guard Nicole Anderson and forward Sandra VanEmbricqs, who has completed her eligibility.

But the three women responded well. Stephens, who had to red-shirt in the 1988-89 season because of NCAA rules on transfers, not only led the Pac-10 in scoring but was named to the all-conference team. VanEmbricqs also was named all-conference after she led the Pac-10 with 9.6 rebounds a game and averaged 14.1 points. Anderson averaged 10.4 points, led the Bruins with 96 assists and was named to the all-conference freshman team.

Last season the Bruins had experience in the front court and inexperience in the backcourt. Stephens averaged about 12 minutes a game as a Colorado freshman. Anderson was in her first season of college basketball.

This season Stephens and Anderson are the veterans, and the front court includes four freshmen and a redshirt freshman.

To take advantage of the experience at guard--and of Stephens' ability to play in an open court--Moore said the Bruins will run more than they have in the past.

The running game should be easy for Stephens. She said that not only does she like the faster tempo, but she also thinks other teams will be surprised when the tall UCLA forwards and centers demonstrate that they can run. "We have some big players," she said, but they "can get up and down the court."

Stephens said that she welcomes the added responsibility of being a leader to the younger Bruins.

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