Women’s basketball looks ahead to long-awaited season opener
After an eight-month offseason, coach Cori Close is gearing up for what will be her 10th season in charge of the Bruins. Close and her team will take on Cal State Fullerton to open the season Nov. 25. (Liz Ketcham/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Jon Christon
Nov. 19, 2020 1:15 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 22 at 5:53 p.m.
The Bruins will be playing their first game of the season in less than a week.
For UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close, getting to this point was never guaranteed after a long and hard offseason.
“At the end of practice (Tuesday), I’m like, ‘One week from now, we’re gonna be in Pauley Pavilion, preparing for the game,’ and I was like, ‘Dang, alright,’” Close said. “We didn’t know if it would ever come – we didn’t know we were going to get a season.”
One of the main obstacles in the way of a 2020-2021 season was a schedule – or the lack thereof – and albeit late, the Bruins finally got one.
UCLA will begin the season at home against Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday, followed by a game at Pepperdine on Nov. 29.
From there, the Bruins will begin conference play starting the weekend of Dec. 4 – with the exception of a Dec. 8 home matchup against UCSB – against the Arizona schools. In the new 22-game conference format, UCLA will play each Pac-12 school twice, but the exact dates and times of those games will be determined later.
Close said playing 22 games against fellow Pac-12 teams is both a blessing and a curse.
“It’s brutal – we think we’re the No. 1 conference in the country, and then to have 22 out of your 25 games be against those players, you better get ready,” Close said. “But we were able to put the safety and the highest chance to play as many games as we could in play because of what we’ve earned as a conference, so it’s going to be exciting for sure.”
The Pac-12 currently boasts five teams in the preseason AP Top-25 – tied for the most of any conference – with Arizona State just on the cusp of making it six. UCLA is ranked No. 9 in the poll, the third-highest in the Pac-12 nationally, but finished in fourth place in both the Pac-12 media poll and the Pac-12 coaches poll at the conference’s media day.
At media day, the Bruins also saw two players be recognized individually, with senior forward Michaela Onyenwere and sophomore guard Charisma Osborne both making the preseason All-Conference team.
Onyenwere earlier in the offseason became just the second player in program history to be named an AP Preseason All-American, and was also named to the Women’s Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy Watch List, highlighting the 50 best players in the nation.
Entering her fourth and potentially final season, Onyenwere said regardless of her individual honors or how the season ends up, she will still appreciate every moment.
“That’s what COVID taught me eight months ago, is just cherish every single moment with the people that I have surrounding around me,” Onyenwere said. “That’s been just something that I’ve been kind of honing in on – just cherishing what potentially could be my last year and obviously adapting to whatever (COVID-19) brings.”
While UCLA has 25 games on its schedule, Close said it’s unlikely that all 25 will be played because of COVID-19, even with the extensive protocols that are in place. Close cited the cancellation of Pac-12 football games as evidence to be pessimistic.
Four out of the 12 scheduled Pac-12 football games have already been canceled in just the two weeks since football season began, with at least one more canceled game in week three.
However, redshirt junior guard Chantel Horvat said whether her team plays all 25 scheduled games or just one, getting back to game action at all will make the tumultuous offseason worth it.
“It’s going to be an emotional season,” Horvat said. “There’s going to be highs, and there’s going to be lows, but I think at the end of it, it’s going to be extremely rewarding, and it’s going to mean a lot to all of us.”