A dominant defensive performance, along with two impressive freshman debuts, helped carry the UCLA women’s basketball team to victory.
The No. 8 Bruins defeated the Vanguard Lions 87-40 in an exhibition Sunday afternoon. After scoring just two points in the first five minutes, coach Cori Close’s team turned to a full-court press and never looked back.
“We really tried to press out of free throws and dead balls,” Close said. “I think that’s a way we can use our depth, our length and our athleticism.”
The Bruins forced three turnovers to start the game, and finished the day with 23 takeaways. They turned those turnovers into 33 points, including 16 on the fast break, something Close said she thinks is going to be a big part of her team’s game plan this season.
“I think (the press) is really important for us for the long term,” Close said.
UCLA used this game to show off its new freshmen, including forward Michaela Onyenwere, who was ranked No. 10 by espnW in the class of 2017. She shot 5-of-7 for a team-leading 14 points.
“I was nervous to start, obviously – it’s my first college game,” Onyenwere said. “But the atmosphere, with the band … I just think it’s so fun, finally playing a game.”
Another major contributor was freshman guard Chantel Horvat, a five-star recruit from Australia, ranked No. 15 in her class by espnW. She finished the day with 12 points and 11 rebounds, including several reverse layups in the second quarter.
Despite the contributions from the freshmen, senior guard Jordin Canada led the Bruins on both sides of the floor. She recorded six assists, one shy of her school-record season average a year ago.
“I’m always looking to get open shots for my teammates,” Canada said. “I love to pass the ball, that’s what I do.”
Canada didn’t just pass the ball, though. She led the team with five steals in the game, which she credited to her aggressive play and leadership responsibilities.
“Just being aggressive, I think that’s what coach wants in me: to lead by example on the team,” Canada said. “I’m the one that sets the tone every single time.”
Other notable performances by the Bruins came from senior forward Monique Billings, who turned in a 14-point, nine-rebound performance, and junior guard Kennedy Burke, who flirted with a double-double. Burke scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The game wasn’t all positive though. The Bruins failed to hit a 3-pointer in the first three quarters. Despite scoring 87 points, coach Close said she wasn’t satisfied with the way the Bruins shot the ball.
“We’re not as good a shooting team from the 3-point line as we were a year ago,” Close said. “We’re going to need to be able to stretch people out, we’re going to have to hit more 3s than that in the long term in order to reach our potential.”
Despite the poor shooting performance, the Bruins still walked away with high spirits, as they could be seen laughing at and imitating Onyenwere when she got fouled in the fourth quarter.
“We’re a big family. I love this group of girls,” said Onyenwere. “It’s such a fun experience with them.”
The Bruins are looking to make three Sweet 16 appearances in a row for the first time in team history. UCLA’s next game is against San Jose State on Friday night in Pauley Pavilion.