The words "UCLA" and "dynasty" don't refer exclusively to basketball. They are equally applicable to softball.
UCLA's softball teams have won 11 NCAA Tournament championships, the same number as the Bruins have won in men's basketball. Actually, softball can claim 12 national championships counting a 1978 title won under the umbrella of the now defunct AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which was a precursor to the NCAA accepting its feminine side).
UCLA softball, which plays host to Kentucky in a super regional this weekend, shares John Wooden with basketball. Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who played for UCLA, said Thursday that the Wizard of Westwood was a mentor.
"One of the things he says very clearly is all those championships are as old as dirt," she said, using the present tense to speak of Wooden's advice. "They are in the history books. You have to live in the now. That perspective has really helped. You can call these (programs) dynasties. None of that helps you today."
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Inouye-Perez also noted how Wooden, who died in 2010 four months shy of his 100th birthday, espoused a universal philosophy.
"It's 'Wooden-isms,'" she said. "But it's the language at UCLA for all sports. Your work ethic and enthusiasm are two cornerstones."
Earlier in the week, UK Coach Rachel Lawson referred to UCLA as the softball "Mecca." Led by Pacific-12 Player of the Year Ally Carda (31-4 record as a pitcher, .388 average and 13 home runs as a lead-off hitter), the Bruins bring a 51-6 record into Saturday's first game of the best-of-three series.
UCLA, which has a 59-8 home record in NCAA Tournament play, will look at Kentucky as a "stepping stone" toward greater goals, Lawson said.
One such goal would be a return to the Women's College World Series for the first time since 2010.
"That says a lot for our sport," Inouye-Perez said of UCLA's absence from softball's center stage. "That's great news for our sport."
This trend toward greater competitive balance may explain the UCLA coach recoiling from the suggestion of Kentucky as mere stepping stone.
"I look forward to a very competitive weekend," she said. "I have a lot of respect for Kentucky's program and their coaching staff and how they've been able to come together.
"One thing I do know in this sport: The game doesn't know who's supposed to win."