UCLA women’s basketball went 2-2 in its first week of Pac-12 play, good for fifth place in the conference standings, but the team’s improving on-court chemistry has left a sense of optimism moving forward.
In a win over No. 22 Oregon State (11-4, 2-2 Pac-12) on Friday, No. 14 UCLA (11-4, 2-2) finished with 23 assists and just nine turnovers. Coach Cori Close said her young team displayed a great deal of selflessness, something it had lacked earlier on in the year.
“It’s not only your ability to be selfless enough to pass it, but being able to make the reads and deliver,” Close said. “I think we are getting better and better at knowing how to make a play for someone else.”
Since the Bruins have four true freshmen on the roster, it has taken more time to adjust than years past, but it appears the team is turning a corner. Last season, UCLA had a seven-player rotation due to injuries, so having a bench that is 10 players deep and beginning to gel has become an essential weapon at Close’s disposal.
“Having a bench that not only comes in and gives you a punch and extends leads – you can count on them, they’re trustworthy,” Close said. “You have to have the selflessness to do that, and you have to have the talent and determination.”
One of those role players, junior transfer Japreece Dean, has also been added to the rotation after regaining eligibility. The guard is averaging 7.2 points in just over 22 minutes per game, and attributed her quick success to the selfless nature of this year’s roster.
“I think it’s just my team being very welcoming, and helping me, and hyping me up every game,” Dean said. “Their support helps me so I just try to get in a rhythm and learn from different people on the team.”
Close has also been impressed by her team’s increased number of “passion plays.” By her definition, “passion plays” are nonstatistical categories that do not appear in a box score, but ultimately aid the team’s success – such as a well-set screen.
Close said UCLA posted back-to-back season highs in “passion plays” against California and Oregon State, and thinks they are the determining factor in the team’s success from game-to-game.
“For us, we’ve never lost a game when we’ve gotten to 70 passion plays,” Close said. “We actually were not getting there early on, but in the last few games we have, and it just fuels us.”
On Sunday, however, the Bruins missed that mark and fell to then-No. 9 Oregon at home. It was the first loss to a Pac-12 opponent at Pauley Pavilion in UCLA’s last 20 conference home games.
Despite the loss, the optimism towards the team’s recent success remained present. Senior guard Jordin Canada raved about the heart her team showed in the loss.
“It just shows the heart in this team and the fight that we have that no matter what we are going to keep fighting whether we’re up or we’re down, it does not matter,” Canada said. “We’ve been in this situation many times before, we’ve had adversity, it’s just all about staying together.”
The Bruins return to action Friday when they take on Utah in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m.