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UCLA women’s basketball struggles with empty bench, looks to promising future roster

Coach Cori Close expresses her frustrations on the sidelines. UCLA women’s basketball is off to its worst start through 15 games since the 2018-2019 season. (Sakshi Joglekar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Gavin Carlson

Feb. 1, 2022 10:34 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 3 at 1:04 a.m.

For the second straight season, the Bruins’ roster has been hampered by injuries and absences.

But this time around, it’s contributed to their worst start to a season in three years.

UCLA women’s basketball (9-6, 4-4 Pac-12) peaked at No. 5 in the AP Poll last season despite playing a majority of the campaign with seven active players. Just over a week ago, the blue and gold appeared to be overcoming a limited bench once again when it defeated USC twice to record its fourth straight Pac-12 win by double digits.

Yet, exactly one week later, the Bruins recorded their third straight conference loss – including a forfeit for not having enough available players against No. 19 Oregon on Friday – and now sit in the middle of the Pac-12 standings.

Graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas and redshirt senior guard Kayla Owens are two of the eight Bruins who weren’t with the team last season, and they’re also the only two who haven’t missed any games this year.

After Sunday’s loss to Oregon State, Thomas said the team had mixed emotions given the state of the roster.

“The mood before the game was definitely that we know we have a player down,” Thomas said. “After the game, we knew that we still have growth spots, but we’re going to keep coming every single day ready to fight.”

Though the roster’s uncertainty has kept the blue and gold out of the AP rankings all season, it has given a few Bruins extra opportunities.

With the starting backcourt of graduate student guard Jaelynn Penn and junior guard Charisma Osborne out Sunday, redshirt freshman guard Dominique Onu became the primary ball-handler for the Bruins and led the team with a career-high 13 points while adding seven rebounds and three assists.

Osborne’s injury during UCLA’s loss to No. 8 Arizona on Jan. 26 left Onu as the lead guard for the entire fourth quarter last Thursday. Redshirt senior guard Chantel Horvat said she loved Onu’s confidence following the close loss.

“The thing I love about (Onu) is she’ll never back away from a challenge,” Horvat said. “You tell her she’s got to play point, she’ll step up and try to do whatever it takes to help the team. You can always count on her to bring energy and give her best.”

Two other Bruins logged their first minutes of the season last week, with junior forward Brynn Masikewich playing one minute against the Wildcats and another seven minutes against the Beavers, while junior guard Camryn Brown played nine minutes Sunday. Masikewich played for the first time since Jan. 31, 2020, after missing all of last season because of injury.

Coach Cori Close said Masikewich’s return brought the team joy.

“That was actually the most joy I saw in our whole team, was when she went into the game,” Close said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of times where it would’ve been easy for her to give up. That’s definitely a silver lining. Now it’s integrating chemistry and how we make adjustments.”

Two Future Bruins Named to McDonald’s All-American Roster

While UCLA has faced injury issues, depth could become a strength for the program in future years.

The Bruins will welcome the top-ranked recruiting class in the country in 2022, and their two highest-ranked signees – guard Kiki Rice and forward Gabriela Jaquez – were named to the McDonald’s All-American roster Jan. 25.

The commitment from Rice, espnW’s No. 2 prospect in the country, catapulted the blue and gold to the top of the recruiting rankings Nov. 4. In addition to earning two gold medals with USA basketball, the 5-foot-11 point guard was named the Washington D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year in her last full high school season at Sidwell Friends School after averaging 26.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game in the 2018-2019 season.

Joining Rice on the All-American roster is Jaquez, another five-star recruit who rose to No. 19 on espnW’s 2022 rankings after being ranked No. 63 and classified as a four-star recruit when she committed to the Bruins last July. The sister of UCLA men’s basketball junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., Gabriela is currently averaging 33.5 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5.3 steals per game for undefeated Camarillo High School.

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Gavin Carlson | Sports staff
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
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