Despite a losing record seven games into the season, two women’s basketball players reached career highs over the past two weeks.
Sophomore forward Michaela Onyenwere was awarded College Sports Madness National Player of the Week after shooting a combined 18-of-28 and 20 combined rebounds in UCLA women’s basketball’s (3-4) wins over Georgia and Seton Hall. Senior guard Kennedy Burke earned Paradise Jam All-Tournament honors after accumulating 55 points and 19 rebounds over the three games.
Coach Cori Close said Onyenwere’s play provides UCLA with a strong foundation for success in the latter portion of the season.
“(Onyenwere’s performance) tells you we are really hopeful for our future,” Close said. “We’re building a house for Pac-12 (games) and for March, and because of players like (Onyenwere), I’m able to have a very hopeful heart.”
In St. Thomas, the Bruins witnessed their lowest point total in a quarter this season with seven and their two worst shooting nights – 26.2 percent against North Carolina and 27.5 percent against South Florida.
However, performances like Onyenwere’s against Kentucky leaves Close optimistic that the team will turn things around.
“Even though it’s not clicking right now, when you have anchors of character and talent like (Onyenwere), you’re confident that it’ll click eventually,” Close said.
Onyenwere bested her career high in points that she set earlier in the season against Georgia with a 28-point outing in the Kentucky overtime loss.
The forward logged a combined 10-of-11 to total 22 points in the fourth quarters of the games against Georgia and Kentucky.
“Scoring points, I think that’s what I try to focus on to help my team out the most,” Onyenwere said. “Doing my part brought a bit of momentum towards the end of those games.”
Burke was UCLA’s leading scorer in the game against North Carolina, posting a season-high of 21 points and three shots from behind arc.
In the Virgin Islands, Burke led the Bruins with an average of 18.3 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Burke currently leads the team with an average of 15.3 points per game, but she said her offense is not the facet of her game she seeks to highlight most.
“I want to be known as a good defender and not just a scorer,” Burke said. “Whatever Close wanted me to do, I was able to score when my team needed me, crash the boards when some of our players were in foul trouble and just playing solid defense.”
In game two of the Paradise Jam, Burke reached 100 career blocks – a feat accomplished by only four other Bruins.
“From her steals to her rebounds, to her points, she’s been affecting the game in so many areas,” Close said. “She’s catching the attention of WNBA scouts as a result.”
Although disappointed by the three-game losing streak, Close said she can look at Burke’s performance as a positive takeaway from the tournament.
“I’m really proud,” Close said. “It’s actually one of the silver linings to the weekend – (Burke’s) growth and consistency.”
Close said the past five games have given her insight on how to structure the offense around the Bruins’ two leading scorers.
“I’ve learned some things that have forced me to make adjustments so that we’re in a better position offensively,” Close said. “We’re going to play through the middle of the floor with (Burke) and (Onyenwere).”