Four of UCLA’s five starters logged double-digits in at least one game this weekend.
“We were a new team, a lot of people weren’t experienced with this type of basketball,” said senior guard Kennedy Burke. “But looking back now, we’ve developed a lot and still have room to grow.”
No. 25 UCLA women’s basketball (19-11, 12-6 Pac 12) hadn’t held a losing record since 2014, but it was at .500 as recently as Jan. 20. Now, after defeating Utah (20-9, 9-9) and then Colorado (12-17, 2-16) this weekend, UCLA finished fourth in the Pac-12 conference – the same place it did last year when it was the No. 9 team in the nation.
Coach Cori Close said communication – something the Bruins had been working on all season – enabled them to be aggressive on defense Friday and Sunday.
“We switched all the screens with the exceptions of ones (senior guard) Japreece Dean was involved in so the communication was so huge,” Close said. “I was really proud with the way they came out and stuck to our defensive game plan and took away what Colorado wanted to do first.”
Sophomore forward Michaela Onyenwere logged 29 points against the Utes and 18 against the Buffaloes. The forward leads the Bruins in scoring – logging at least 20 points 14 times this season.
Onyenwere said her improvement in communicating is what enabled her to find success in shooting and playing with her teammates.
“My voice has a little bit more power than I think it does,” Onyenwere said. “I’m still learning that as I grow into this role and grow with relationships with my teammates.”
Last season, Onyenwere averaged 17.1 minutes per game. The forward is the second most active Bruin this year, nearly doubling her playing time to an average of 32 minutes a night.
Onyenwere isn’t the only Bruin to play a new role this season.
Two of UCLA’s other starters – Dean and redshirt freshman guard Lindsey Corsaro – are playing over 10 more minutes more than they did last season.
Close said the Bruins had to create a new approach heading into this because they were such a different team.
“We have a very different style of how we guard, how we play offense,” Close said. “We’re a lot more versatile and a lot harder to scout.”
Despite victories in four of UCLA’s last five matchups, the Bruins lost three straight games in November. After a loss against Indiana and a winless trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, UCLA was 5-3 going into December.
“We had the third-hardest schedule in the country in terms of nonconference, with a brand new team, with not one person playing the same role,” Close said. “I think it was really sort of a faith-building year in terms of believing what could happen if we stay committed over the long haul.”
UCLA will open the Pac-12 tournament in the quarterfinals against the winner of No. 5-seed Arizona State (19-9, 10-7) and No. 12-seed Colorado on Friday.