- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Maybe playing Stanford on Friday night was a little like stepping in front of a freight train.
The Cardinal stared at the business end of a three-game home losing streak, something that hadn't happened since way back in the 1986-87 season when Tara VanDerveer was a second-year Cardinal coach and parachute pants were all the rage.
Everything Stanford hadn't been in its past two Maples Pavilion appearances against Connecticut and Cal -- aggressive, up-tempo, confident -- all came back with a share of first-place in the Pac-12, and a large serving of pride, on the line.
So if 14th-ranked UCLA didn't measure up on this night, losing 75-49, it probably isn't a completely accurate reflection of the Bruins' ability to compete. That may come, however, by the end of the weekend, with Berkeley on the horizon.
"I always say no pressure, no diamonds," said UCLA coach Cori Close. "We will learn from this, and we will learn real fast."
UCLA walked into Maples Pavilion at the top of the conference standings at 4-0, thanks in good part to a favorable schedule that had the Bruins opening up against the Oregon and Washington schools, programs (save the improving Huskies) closer to the bottom of the pecking order than the top.
But the Bruins have done the hard work as well. They beat Oklahoma on the road in November before the Sooners' devastating run of injuries, played Notre Dame tough at Pauley, defeated then-undefeated Texas (home) and St. John's (road).
A UCLA team that was decimated by injuries last year, reduced by a shell of its previous season's self under first-year head coach Cori Close, is a legitimate power.
But how convincingly will UCLA be able to wield that power now that the meat of the conference schedule -- in a conference that is vastly improved -- has begun?
UCLA's Friday loss created a logjam in the conference standings, with Stanford, Cal, UCLA and USC all tied at 4-1. Next up for UCLA (13-3 overall) is No. 7 Cal, a team that needed overtime to get past USC on Thursday night.
Getting blown out by a rejuvenated Stanford team was not the way the Bruins wanted to start the toughest roadie in Pac-12 play.
"All this week I have been saying to our team, this is such a great measuring stick for us," Close said. "If you want to rise and be one of the best programs in the country, you have to compete and learn from where you are. This is really disappointing, because we really wanted to play better."
Stanford had a lot to do with UCLA's struggles. The Cardinal held them to a season-low 31.4 percent shooting, forced 19 turnovers, won the boards by a 36-25 margin and outscored them 30-18 in the paint.
Chiney Ogwumike's 25-point, 13-rebound night was complemented nicely by 16 points from Joslyn Tinkle and a great all-around effort from point guard Amber Orrange, who was shaky a week ago in the loss to Cal, but rebounded to go seven of 10 from the floor for 15 points and collect five steals.
"They out-hustled us," said UCLA center Alyssia Brewer, the Tennessee transfer who led the Bruins with 14 points. "We came in feeling good, and then it started to get hard and we let them back us down. And we never recovered."
Close saw a Stanford team that played with an edge. Her own team, which has Atonye Nyingifa and Jasmine Dixon back on the floor after season-ending injuries last year, has played with an edge as well. UCLA came into this game leading the conference in scoring offense and rebounding.
VanDerveer called UCLA a team with plenty of "big physical bodies."
"They take up a lot of space and they have some nice outside play," VanDerveer said. "It didn't feel like we won handily. Our team has won some very big games this year, and this is a very big game to us. We needed to remind ourselves how we are capable of playing."
And now perhaps UCLA will need to do the same.
"We have paid the price, we haven't played a cupcake schedule," said Close. "It was not the best day for the Bruins, but Stanford forced us into some of that."
In only her second year in the Pac-12, Close has become one of its most vocal supporters. What happened on Friday night, a 26-point loss to one of the nation's top teams, shouldn't make her team look bad as much as it should make the conference look good.
"The logjam is a great compliment to where this conference is going," Close said. "We are strong, we are diverse, we have depth. We are in a great position. I don't think we showed our best tonight, but we will come back different."