In what is setting up to be a potential game of the season, we have No. 2 Stanford up against No. 8 UCLA in the Pac-12 tonight at 11 p.m. ET on the Pac-12 Network. These two Top 10 teams have been the cream of the crop in not just the conference but the nation. With Stanford being undefeated in conference play and the Bruins only having one loss, this game will have huge implications in the standings, national rankings and, ultimately, March Madness seeding.
Only the South Carolina Gamecocks can argue that they are better than Stanford. Ranked second in the country (behind SC, which is also the only team to have beaten them), Cameron Brink and company have been as good as advertised. The trio of Brink, Haley Jones and Hannah Jump have lived up to the championship expectations bestowed upon them and have the Cardinal on an 11-game winning streak that includes ranked wins against Arizona, Creighton and Gonzaga. Friday’s matchup will be their toughest of the new year. No team left on their schedule is currently in the Top 10 and given how competitive the Pac-12 has been this year, dropping any games will open up the chance for UCLA, Utah or Arizona to become title favorites.
The good news for Stanford is they have the starting unit to beat a team as talented as UCLA on the road. Brink flirts with a double-double nightly, Jones brings the offense for the guards with 13.2 points per game and Talana Lepolo is the facilitator, averaging 4.5 assists per game.
For the Bruins, this is exactly where they want to be. A shot at the best team in the conference, at home with all the confidence in the world after beating their rival USC. Despite Stanford being favored, the Bruins have a similar resume. They also have a loss against the Gamecocks and only one defeat separates them from Stanford. An upset win Friday will undoubtedly shake up the AP poll next week and the only question will be how high does UCLA jump and how far does Stanford drop?
If UCLA is to win, Charisma Osborne will have to be the best guard on the floor. She’s certainly capable of that, even with Stanford being the opponent, but it’s a tall order. She’s averaging 17.4 points a night and 6.2 rebounds, making her the team leader in both categories.
Can the Bruin bigs keep Brink off the glass? That’s the job the forwards and center will have on this guard-heavy squad. Perhaps head coach Cori Close opts for a bigger lineup to start the game and puts a guard on the bench? That could disrupt Stanford’s game enough to give UCLA the early advantage while adjustments are made.
No. 8 UCLA Bruins (14-2, 3-1 Pac-12) vs. No. 2 Stanford Cardinal (16-1, 4-0 Pac-12)
When: Friday, Jan. 13 at 11 p.m. ET
Where: Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA
How to watch: Pac-12 Network
Key to the matchup: For UCLA, the path to victory is clear. It needs to win the rebounding battle, bigs will have to be thrown at Brink to make her work as much as possible and Osborne will have to be her best self. Stanford will need to come into the hostile arena and establish that their guard combinations are too much for UCLA. That means Jones and Jump being aggressive and getting going early and often. Expect a competitive game.