UCLa guard Markel Walker drives the baseline against Stetson's Shanasa… (Jay LaPrete / Associated…)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The UCLA women beat Oklahoma, 86-80, in November. Defense was not the most important thing in that game.
Bruins point guard Thea Lemberger was asked whether the score will be similar Monday when third-seeded UCLA (26-7) faces sixth-seeded Oklahoma (23-10) in a second-round NCAA tournament game at St. John Arena that is scheduled to begin at 4:15 p.m. PDT.
"No," Lemberger said as she stole a glance at her coach, Cori Close. "We're going to lock down on defense. It's going to be a boring, low-scoring game."
Close laughed but nodded her head in agreement. She would prefer something a little less wild the second time around.
But second-year Coach Close would happily accept the same result. When the Bruins went to Norman and beat the then-11th-ranked Sooners, she said it made a big impact on her team.
"It was a major turning point for us as a program," Close said. "We had seven new players and had not established our confidence at all.
"After that game, the coaches were walking behind the players, out to the bus, and we were listening to them talk. The kids were saying, 'Wow, this was fun.' It meant something to them. They were reliving the win, how it happened, how we went up 27, they made a huge run, we held on.
"It kind of became our signature. This is what we do. We go on the road and get tough wins."
On away and neutral courts this season, the Bruins are 15-3 versus an 11-4 home-court record.
Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale said she knows what went most wrong in that early loss to UCLA.
"They had 28 offensive rebounds on us," Coale said. It was actually 24, but bad enough. In total rebounds, UCLA had a 56-34 advantage in that game.
Close said her team is expected to play strong and physical, especially close to the basket.
"There's an area around the basket, 8 feet, that we call 'the war zone,'" Close said. "An 8-foot box around the basket where, if players get touches there, it's usually either a foul or a basket scored. Inside that box we want to be the ones to initiate contact, in a legal fashion but making sure we're relentlessly aggressive."
There is a winter storm approaching Columbus. It even has a name, Virgil. Lemberger, who is from Santa Monica, is mostly unfamiliar with snow. Alyssia Brewer, who is from Tulsa, Okla., and who knows winter storms, said it was funny to see Lemberger tiptoe off the team bus Sunday as the team arrived at the arena for practice just as the snow was beginning to fall.
"Thea got a little crazy," Brewer said. "It was like, little fingernail-sized snowflakes. It was pretty funny."