Riding a four-game winning streak, UCLA women’s basketball continues to lean on its superstar seniors.
Senior point guard Jordin Canada and senior forward Monique Billings, both on the midseason watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, have led the Bruins to a 15-4 record and a No. 13 national ranking. Both are among the top scorers in the Pac-12, with Billings leading the conference in rebounds. Canada ranks second in the conference in assists, and is the Pac-12 leader in steals per game.
Coach Cori Close is well aware of how important the two seniors are to her team’s success, and emphasized Canada’s effect on the team’s offense after Friday night’s win over California.
“I thought (Canada) passed up on way too many jump shots,” Close said. “When she hit those two back-to-back 3s, I just thought, ‘Okay, we’re gonna be in a better rhythm now.’”
Billings averaged an impressive 16 points and 13 rebounds per game in this weekend’s homestand. Despite her impressive stats, she recognizes that her leadership and presence on the floor are just as important to her team.
“That energy that we bring … gives us confidence,” Billings said Friday night. “That’s really something I’m going to bring to the table and try to bring out of my team.”
Younger Bruins, such as redshirt junior forward Lajahna Drummer, see themselves as beneficiaries of Billings and Canada’s effect on opposing defenses.
“When (Billings) started clogging the paint, it opened up the outside,” Drummer said. “It makes it easier for me to take my time and be confident in myself.”
While the Bruins thrive with both stars out on the floor, they proved Sunday that they could perform with only one. After Canada left temporarily with a face injury, UCLA continued to keep pace with Billings leading the charge.
“I thought we were calmed and poised when (Canada) went out of the game,” Close said in Sunday’s postgame press conference. “That speaks to the maturity of our team, and also the confidence that our team has in (Billings) to anchor us.”
Billings broke both the 1,500-point and 1,000-rebound thresholds Sunday, making her the third player in team history to put up those numbers.
The Bruins aren’t the only ones who know how important the senior duo is to their success. After failing to keep them in check, both opposing coaches this weekend had nothing but high praise for Canada and Billings.
“People know that they’re their go-to players,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “They showed a lot of pride. They were just like, ‘Hey, this is our house.’”
Canada buried Stanford with her 11 free throws, while Billings’ 18 boards kept the Bruins in the game when Canada left.
“(Canada) makes a huge difference,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “When a team has a really good point guard, it’s hard to make them have a bad possession when we need them to.”
Canada and Billings lead the Bruins to Washington for a two-game road trip against Washington and Washington State this weekend.