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Good Sports: The Lady Bruins Welcome a Ring Bearer


By Paul Feinberg '85

Published Oct 1, 2008 8:00 AM

Women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell (photo by Hugh Hamilton)

Nikki Caldwell earned her first championship ring as a player in Tennessee's storied women's basketball program and earned two more as an assistant coach at UT, apprenticing under the legendary Pat Summitt. So when the new head coach for women's basketball at UCLA looks up at the banners in Pauley Pavilion she is not awed — but she is respectful.

"In order for you to go anywhere in life, you always have to reflect on the past," Caldwell says. "I know what it took, so you really take your hat off to those who can say they're champions. Being here at UCLA and seeing the banners and the trophies in our Hall of Fame — you have an unbelievable sense of pride."

Just a few months after being hired, Caldwell is mostly feeling right at home (though braving — or avoiding — the 405 freeway serves as a constant reminder that she isn't in Knoxville anymore). That sense of welcome, she says, comes from camaraderie at the Morgan Center.

"What I've realized these past few months is that the institution itself works as a team," Caldwell says. "All the coaches are on one mission. They are all so giving, with everyone telling me, 'Whatever you need, Nikki, we're here to help.'"

Once her team hits the court, Caldwell says they'll push the ball on offense, establishing the transition game and an inside presence. They'll extend the defense over 94 feet, playing mostly man-to-man, but (and don't tell John Wooden or Ben Howland) Caldwell will use a match-up zone on occasion. "If you run a match-up, you should be able to score on one," she explains. "But the most important component is that we're gonna be a team that rebounds."

Caldwell sees UCLA basketball as a great opportunity, noting that Southern California is a hotbed of local high school talent. Ever the competitor, she believes the program is capable of great things. So there's more on her mind than just respect when she sees the banners in Pauley.

"I didn't participate in [UCLA's first] 100 national championships, but I do plan to be in the next 100," Caldwell says. "We're gonna have a banner up there, too."

— Paul Feinberg '85