After UCLA was up 61-54 with 5:34 remaining, California pulled off a 9-2 run to knot it up at 63 apiece with five seconds remaining.
The Bruins inbounded the ball to their leading scorer, junior forward Michaela Onyenwere.
Onyenwere dribbled to the top of the key before being hounded by multiple defenders. She passed it to redshirt senior guard Japreece Dean, who was open for a right-wing 3.
It was Dean’s 14th miss from the field in 16 attempts on the night.
While No. 7 UCLA women’s basketball (21-2, 10-2 Pac-12) managed to pull out the overtime win Sunday, Dean’s inability to get it done in regulation was a microcosm of her recent shooting performance.
In her last 10 games, Dean is shooting 36-of-141 from the field and 4-of-32 from beyond the arc, averaging 11.3 points per game.
Coach Cori Close highlighted the irreplaceable intangibles that Dean provides for the team despite her lackluster shooting.
“(Dean) didn’t shoot it that well,” Close said. “But I think she had two of her best leadership games. So, if you have to choose between her shooting it well and her being a great point guard leader, I’ll choose point guard leader every day.”
Close said the team needs to do a better job of helping Dean – who made the 2020 Naismith Trophy shortlist – get easier points.
“I think we have to figure out ways to get her to the free throw a bit,” Close said. “(Dean is) obviously our best free throw shooter.”
The Austin, Texas, native is shooting a team-high 82.6% from the free throw line on over about four attempts per game. Yet that mark is nearly 10 percentage points lower than her 92.2% clip from last season, which set UCLA’s single-season record for free throw percentage.
In fact, her percentages are down across the board from last season. Her field goal percentage sits at 32.8%, down from 35.9% and her 3-point percentage is at 28.2%, below last season’s mark of 35.2%.
But Onyenwere – who just picked up her second Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Player of the Week award – said she remains confident in Dean’s shooting because of her work ethic in practice.
“We trust her to take those shots because we know she’s put in the work to take those shots,” Onyenwere said. “We have (Dean’s) back when we are rebounding well, so I don’t think it puts a lot of pressure on me.”
Despite her recent scoring inefficiency, Dean has been crucial as a playmaker, averaging 5.0 assists per game, nearly doubling the second most on her team.
At the start of the season, she said she set a goal of leading the country in assists. Dean now ranks 36th in the nation in assists per game – well below Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu’s 8.5 dimes per match.
Freshman guard Charisma Osborne said Dean – who was one of 10 players shortlisted for the Nancy Lieberman Point Guard of the Year Award on Monday – impacts the game in ways apart from her scoring.
“Even though (Dean) hasn’t been shooting it well every game, she does come in clutch in those moments,” Osborne said. “She makes her free throws, she makes the right passes and things like that, so we still appreciate that from her.”
Freshman guard Jaden Owens – who was 2-of-3 from the field against California – has played the role of Dean’s backup, bringing the ball up the floor and handling point guard responsibilities when Dean is off the court. Owens – the No. 13 recruit in the country last year – has averaged only 10.9 minutes per game, the lowest among the top 20 recruits of the class of 2019.
Dean will look to end this substandard shooting stretch Friday against Ionescu and the Ducks.