Women’s basketball to take on Weber State in home opener
Junior forward Michaela Onyenwere was the leading rebounder for No. 11 UCLA women’s basketball last season. Both the second and third top rebounders graduated in June. (Liz Ketcham/Photo editor)
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
UCLA Live Stream
Nov. 5, 2019 12:13 a.m.
Cori Close zipped across the gym floor in Pauley Pavilion on a shiny blue scooter Monday morning.
The UCLA women’s basketball coach weaved in and out of her players as they practiced free throws. Senior guard Japreece Dean strolled around the gym, rattling off comments in Spanish, while junior forward Michaela Onyenwere and the other Bruins just laughed.
Minutes prior to the smiles and giggles, the Bruins had finished their final practice before their home opener, standing in hushed silence around the center circle to reflect on their goals.
“(Building a team) is not a scientific formula; it’s like an art project,” Close said. “You’ve got to start with the foundational pieces and building the frame, and (whether you’re) going to use canvas or watercolors.”
No. 11 UCLA will open its 2019 slate when it hosts Weber State in Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday. The Bruins will return three of last year’s starters and add four freshmen – including two five-star guards – plus a redshirt junior transfer from Baylor.
Close said the most surprising part about this year’s team is how the players don’t realize how good they are.
“I’m looking at the work they’ve put in, I’m looking at their talents, I look at their chemistry – and I’m excited for their confidence to catch up to their work, which is a great problem to have,” Close said. “When their mental state can catch up to what their skill set is and what they’ve earned, I think it’s going to be really fun to watch.”
Close said freshman guards Jaden Owens and Charisma Osborne – two McDonald’s All-Americans – will get minutes right away. The duo already has some college experience under its belt, as the Bruins played two scrimmages earlier in the fall without Dean, leaving room for the newcomers.
Dean led the 2018 Bruins with 57 3-pointers and was the third-leading scorer on the team, but will not play in the first two games for UCLA this season. She said she can still contribute from the sidelines as a leader, though.
“Just giving feedback, being a mini-coach on the side will be very important for me,” Dean said. “Just helping out anybody who has questions.”
In addition to Dean, UCLA will return redshirt sophomore guard Lindsey Corsaro, who scored the second-most 3s last year.
Close said between Dean, Corsaro, Owens and Osborne, the Bruins’ offensive potential is high, so the focus in practice has been on defense.
“I’m not used to having so many people who can shoot, that’s for sure,” Close said. “I think one of the fun parts is that we can score a lot, but one of the dangerous parts is that sometimes you don’t understand the urgency of defense. … We’re not nearly where we need to be on defense and rebounding.”
Then-redshirt senior forward Lajahna Drummer and then-senior guard Kennedy Burke posted the second- and third-most rebounds for UCLA last season, with 293 and 210, respectively. However, Onyenwere’s 298 total rebounds were the team high.
Onyenwere said the loss of Drummer and Burke – both 6-foot-1 – will change the Bruins’ defensive style this year.
“I think it’s a little bit different this year because we are smaller this year, so it’s not like we have a whole bunch of bigs to help us out,” Onyenwere said. “I think that puts more pressure on everybody, especially me as a leader because I’ve been here and we have a lot of new faces.”
Against Weber State, Onyenwere said she will be directing her teammates by being aware of which opposing players are shooters, since the Wildcats tend to shoot from behind the arc. Weber State forward Kayla Watkins went 7-of-15 in the Wildcats’ season opener Wednesday.
Close said Tuesday’s game will lay the groundwork for the Bruins’ postseason fate.
“Right now, to use that analogy, we’re really just focused on the foundation: the framing, the things that, in March, people aren’t going to know – but we’re going to know – really determined the level of our success,” Close said.
Tipoff will be at 7 p.m.