Women’s basketball welcomes back key players after strong start to season
Redshirt senior guard Japreece Dean will be on the court for No. 11 UCLA women’s basketball Thursday morning for the first time this season, after sitting out the Bruins’ first two games because of the terms of her redshirt contract. (Niveda Tennety/Assistant Photo editor)
Nov. 13, 2019 1:39 a.m.
Another piece of the Bruin lineup will fall into place starting this week.
When No. 11 UCLA women’s basketball (2-0) hosted Weber State (0-2) in its first game of the year, the starting five included two returners, two newcomers and junior forward Lauryn Miller – who started just three times last season.
Against Loyola Marymount (0-1) four days later, junior guard Chantel Horvat returned to the court after missing 20 straight games with repeated foot injuries.
And now, redshirt senior guard Japreece Dean will make her season debut against Long Beach State (1-1) on Thursday morning. Dean sat out of UCLA’s first two matchups because of negotiations made in her redshirt agreement.
“I’m super excited. It’s my last year, and playing with this specific group of girls is just amazing,” Dean said. “I’m just ready to play and get out there and have fun.”
Dean started 34 of 35 games last year, led the Bruins with 4.9 assists per game and came in third with 14.1 points per game.
Coach Cori Close said Dean’s return to the court will allow her to continue developing as a player and one of the team’s leaders.
“I believe (Dean is) one of the top point guards in the country, I believe she should be a top draft pick in this upcoming draft for the WNBA, and I’m excited to watch her grow her game and affect our team over the course of the next year,” Close said.
In Dean’s two-game absence, freshmen guards Charisma Osborne and Jaden Owens logged a combined 98 minutes, and sophomore guard Kiara Jefferson played 55.
Close said giving those players time to develop early in the season will be beneficial going forward, since the Bruins will have to split minutes this season between the 10 guards on their roster.
“I think having (Dean) out these first two games, since we won, has been a blessing in disguise,” Close said. “Think about the experiences this gave to (Osborne and Owens), and actually (Jefferson), too. I think they’ve just grown immensely from those experiences.”
Another effect of the guard-heavy roster is UCLA’s lack of height relative to its opponents. Six-foot-4 senior forward Ally Rosenblum and 6-foot-2 freshman forward Brynn Masikewich are the Bruins’ tallest players, but neither has played so far this season.
The next tallest players on this year’s team make up a group of five, each standing at 6-foot-1 – including Miller and Horvat.
“We’ve been talking all summer about how we’re not going to have height advantages, but we still have our length and athleticism,” Miller said. “Just knowing there’s going to be bigger players and knowing I have to be just the centerpiece down there – use my strength, move early – and just try to make sure people can’t capitalize on us being so small.”
Miller and Horvat led the UCLA against LMU with 11 and eight rebounds, respectively. The duo also combined for 22 points in the game.
Close said she noticed a difference when Miller and Horvat were on the court Saturday.
“(Miller) and (Horvat) were probably my two highlights,” Close said. “(Miller) just playing with so much more composure and consistency, and rebounding, and not only her own individual play but how she influences the production of the entire team – and then (Horvat’s) aggression just makes all the difference in the world for us.”
UCLA will be back in action Thursday, with Miller, Horvat and Dean available in addition to the other Bruins who helped the team start the season 2-0 last week.