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UCLA plays host to USC in women's basketball

Both the Nikki Caldwell-coached Bruins and Michael Cooper-coached Trojans come into the Pac-10 regular-season game having had their best season start in years.

January 07, 2011|By Ben Bolch

Expletives are no longer needed to stoke interest in the UCLA- USC women's basketball rivalry.

Excellence, it turns out, is a plenty powerful buzzword.

USC (10-3) is off to its best start since 1993-94, when Lisa Leslie and Nicky McCrimmon led the Trojans to an NCAA regional final.

No. 12 UCLA (12-1) hasn't started this fast in 30 years. Eventual Hall of Famer and U.S. gold medalist Denise Curry helped the Bruins win their first 12 games in 1980-81, a season that ended in a quarterfinal of the Assn. for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women tournament.

And so a year after Trojans Coach Michael Cooper directed an expletive toward his archrival in the wake of a USC victory, the teams are content to do their talking on the court.

UCLA and USC each has started 2-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference heading into the crosstown showdown at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.

"People are paying attention to us over here because we're playing extremely good basketball," Cooper said.

Cooper said his Trojans, winners of six consecutive games, are executing on offense and defense about as well as any team he has coached. Sharpshooters Jacki Gemelos, Briana Gilbreath and Ashley Corral compose the core of a team making 35.1% of its three-point shots.

UCLA, whose only loss came during a 55-53 setback to Louisiana State on Dec. 28, is forcing 24.9 turnovers per game with tenacious full-court defense. The Bruins are averaging 14.3 steals per game, fifth best in the nation.

"We work through our defense," senior guard Doreena Campbell said. "That's our bread and butter."

UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell said she has sensed increased interest in her team after its strong start. The Bruins drew a season-high 2,021 against LSU and hope to surpass the crowd of 8,006 that gathered for last season's rivalry game at Pauley Pavilion.

"Our fan support is growing," Caldwell said. "I think it does help that this team is receiving attention not only locally but on a national level. When you see us being ranked, it creates a different buzz."

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