Cori Close made it clear what her mantra was at Monday’s Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day.
“Performance equals potential minus interferences,” the coach said.
Close and junior forward Michaela Onyenwere both referenced No. 10 UCLA women’s basketball’s 74-69 Feb. 22 triumph over Oregon as a turning point for last year’s team.
“I think playing in Matthew Knight Arena, (it was) a crazy, crazy atmosphere,” Onyenwere said during media day. “I don’t think there was one point where we ever gave up. I think that speaks to our character as a team and how the coaching staff has instilled in us what our values are.”
Close said UCLA’s ability to power through the threatening environment helped the team advance to its fourth straight Sweet 16 in March.
“Our job is to minimize those interferences,” Close said. “Our job is to look each other in the eye and to know what we need to do possession by possession. And that’s easy to talk about, hard to build into your psyche, as well as into your habits.”
The Bruins lost two go-to seniors prior to last season – guard Jordin Canada and forward Monique Billings – but the team was able to stay on the national stage regardless. Onyenwere said the story of last season was finding a new identity after the departure of the program cornerstones.
The Bruins’ battle against a lack of identity was officially resolved by the end of last year, Onyenwere said.
“I think that last year, that was kind of the story for our team, just finding our new identity after (Billings) and (Canada) left,” Onyenwere said. “I think that this year we’re great rebounders, great shooters. We work well together, (we’re) great teammates, and so I think that kind of helped us find that new identity.”
Last season, Close’s squad averaged 41.6 rebounds per game in comparison to its opponents’ mark of 35.7, resulting in the Bruins scoring 4.9 more points per game than their opposition.
Senior guard Japreece Dean led the team in 3-point percentage at 35.2%, averaging 1.6 3s per game last year. The guard finished the season shooting 92.2% from the free throw line, setting a new UCLA record.
“Knowledge and experience are going to help me mentor and lead the younger class,” Dean said. “I think about the future, so I think it’s going to help me lead them more instead of thinking about what I’m going to do next.”
Freshman Charisma Osborne is one of the guards who Close said will benefit from Dean’s experience in the collegiate game. Osborne was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and was named the Los Angeles Times’ girl’s basketball Player of the Year for three straight years.
Close said she enjoyed getting to work with Osborne’s 3-point shooting ability and aggression coming off the pick and roll when she coached her at the 2019 USA Women’s U19 World Cup Team trials earlier this spring.
“I really love these young ladies and their passion for the game,” Close said. “Our team is going to be versatile. We will continue to be up-tempo. I love the way we’re shooting the basketball, waiting for them to guard somebody, but a work in progress.”
With three returning starters and two five-star recruits – Osborne and freshman guard Jaden Owens – Close and the Bruins will have a chance to solidify the identity they built toward the end of last season.