With matchups against two top-three teams ahead, the Bruins are going to need some more help from their freshman class.
No. 8 UCLA women’s basketball had one of the highest-ranked freshman classes in the country headed into 2017, reeling in three top-40 recruits.
The headliner of the class, ESPN’s No. 10 recruit forward Michaela Onyenwere, led the team with 14 points in the team’s preseason exhibition against Vanguard. She carried that momentum into the season opener, scoring 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field.
However, Onyenwere took a step back in the win against Presbyterian on Sunday, shooting just two-of-four in 20 minutes.
“College is a different ball game than high school, high school’s a little slower,” Onyenwere said. “College is coming at you all the time, there are new plays every other practice.”
Freshman guard Chantel Horvat, who was ESPN’s No. 15 recruit, has shown similar promise. Horvat is shooting 75 percent from the field, showing off her refined ability to score from everywhere on the court.
Averaging just 15 minutes per game, Horvat acknowledges there is still a long road ahead of her.
“Every week, I think my whole game should be improved,” Horvat said. “No matter what, I’m always going to be working on everything.”
Freshman guard Kayla Owens, who was ranked 37th in her recruiting class, is also looking to find her stride. Owens is averaging just more than 5 points per game this season, and is adapting to the college learning curve as well.
“I’ve learned so much between college and high school,” Owens said. “It’s not even comparable at all. It’s a big awakening.”
Coach Cori Close expressed frustration with her freshmen, sending them a stern message after the win Sunday.
“Every freshman in the country feels this way,” Close said. “You’re going to feel overwhelmed. So what? Get better.”
Despite their struggles, Close is still excited to see how the freshmen grow and contribute moving forward.
“We have a lot of inexperience out there,” Close said. “I’m really excited about it for the future, but it’s a little bit of organized chaos right now.”
UCLA will play its next two games against No. 3 Baylor and No. 1 Connecticut, which will be a major learning opportunity for the young Bruins.
“Obviously, it’s a great opportunity,” Close said. “This tells us where we are in our trajectory, and we just need to keep growing every game.”