Out of Bounds: Basketball Player Grades
In this episode of “Out of Bounds,” Daily Bruin’s sports podcast, Sports editor Jon Christon and Sports staffer Gavin Carlson wrap up the discussion of the men’s and women’s basketball teams by sharing their grades for each team’s top few players.
Jon Christon: Hi, I’m Jon Christon, and this is “Out of Bounds,” Daily Bruin’s sports podcast.
JC: Welcome back, all the “Out of Bounds” listeners. Again, I’m Jon Christon. I’m the Sports editor here at the Daily Bruin. We’re back with another episode of the “Out of Bounds” podcast. I’m joined by Gavin Carlson, one of our staff members here at the Daily Bruin, back for a second episode. Gavin, how are you doing today?
Gavin Carlson: I’m doing great. I’m excited to be back. I had a lot of fun. I think I’m not as nervous this time, and I’m ready to deliver some hot takes about our basketball teams today.
JC: You love to see it. Just starting off, this is our first in-person recording session of the year. It’s been our first in-person recording session since what, 2020, when it was Sam Connon and Ryan Smith, “Out of Bounds.” So I’m excited to actually see Gavin face to face to argue with him about some basketball takes. So today, kind of as a wrap-up of the basketball seasons, we’re going to give out player grades for the most important players on both the men’s and women’s team, kind of like a report card type of thing with spring quarter getting started. So this is going to be a kind of hopefully not too long of an episode, so we should get started right away. So last time, we started with women’s basketball. We’ll start with men’s basketball this time. So men’s basketball is coming off a 27-8 season that ended in the Sweet 16 with a loss to North Carolina. They won against Akron and St. Mary’s before that Sweet 16 game, where everyone remembers Caleb Love going off and ending the season there. Yeah, so I guess we’ll just get started with the coach, Mick Cronin. Mick signed a six-year extension on the first day of the tournament that runs through 2028, so he’s here for the long time— long term. He just delivered UCLA’s best record since 2016-2017, when UCLA had Lonzo Ball. That team was Steve Alford. So, successful season for Mick. I feel like people’s reactions to this season are kind of mixed with him, but I guess we’ll just start with some grades, shall we? I’ll go first here. I gave Mick Cronin a B-plus for this season, which, you know, I feel like the expectations coming in, they’re the two, No. 2 team in the country coming into the season. Obviously, they didn’t live up to those. They finished outside the top 10, I believe, in the AP poll. So obviously they didn’t live up to expectations in that regard, but this was just such a tough season all the way around with COVID, with injuries. Mick has said, been on the record multiple times saying he’s never had a team with this many injuries, and to deliver a 27 and, what did I say? 27-8 season, getting to the Sweet 16, really could have made a second straight Final Four. I think no one would argue with that with St. Jo— or St. Peter’s in the way in the Elite Eight. So I think, overall, a successful season. But before I drag on too long, Gavin, what do you, what do you think of Mick Cronin’s season this year?
GC: Yeah, so I think it’s important to mention that, at least, you know, the grades are going to be based on expectations, I think, coming into the year. And I know when we talked about our predictions coming into the tournament, we both said that we felt the expectations were a little too high coming off the Final Four run. But if we are going against the expectations coming into the year, being a consensus top-five team in most people’s AP polls, I’m going a little lower. I’m going to give them a B. Like you said, the best record since 2016. That’s, you have to give them a big boost because of that. But for me, it’s the way you handle the personnel. I felt like he had one of the, probably, top five most deep rosters, and I feel like he kind of misused players at times. So the one that sticks out to me the most is Peyton Watson. You have a five-star recruit, and he never really found a way to really contribute to the team consistently throughout the year. And some of that’s fit, with Peyton Watson being sort of a fast-break player, on that sort of half-court offense team. But you know, I feel like as a head coach of a program like UCLA that wants to be considered a blue blood once again, you have to be able to get these, you know, five stars and use them correctly right away. Jaylen Clark, we’ll talk about a little later. I felt like he could have used them more towards the end of the year, and so yeah, obviously a lot of success. I’m not one of those people who thinks getting knocked out in the Sweet 16 is some horrible, you know, end of the year. One-and-done games in the tournament are hard, and it’s not like they got blown out. They got beat by an extremely hot player. So yeah, I’ll give them a B, and honestly, I think expectations going into next year are going to be equally as high, so we’ll see if he can do better this time.
JC: Yeah, it’s good you mentioned next year. I think that’s going to be the kind of the bellwether with him in Westwood. He— all these players— Juzang was a transfer, is his, technically, his recruit was a transfer recruit, but Jaime is not his recruit. Tyger is a Steve Alford recruit. All these guys, he inherited, basically. So he is going to have some five stars next year with Amari Bailey coming in. So it’s just how well he integrates those. I think it’s going to be the test for next year. So I think we’re pretty much in agreement that solid B-plus, B, around there for Mick Cronin this year, pretty solid season from him in that regard. But I think, like you said, I think next year is going to be where that matters, but he signed until 2028, so we’ll see. To start with the players, I think we’re going to start with the most talked about player on this team, nationally at least, Johnny Juzang. Johnny is coming off a 15 point per game season. He also averages just about five rebounds per game. But again, like the rest of the team, he had sky-high expectations. First Team preseason All-American coming in. And he did finish All-Pac-12 First Team, but, like Gavin said, we’re doing this based off expectations. And, unfortunately, he just didn’t live up to those. So, I’m going to go ahead and give him a C, which, you know, is a little low. I think maybe lower than consensus. He just— I think if you would have asked me midway through the season, I think I would have given him a B, B-plus even. He was playing well. He was scoring well. He was scoring more efficiently. But I think just down the stretch, that ankle injury really did him in. Before that ankle injury he got injured against Oregon, kind of down the stretch there. Before the ankle injury— he was averaging 17 1/2 points per game, which I believe was good for second in the conference behind Terrell Brown Jr. from Washington. After that injury, in seven games, he only averaged 11 points per game, which is just— for someone who was a preseason All-American, that’s just not good enough. And, you know, you can’t blame a guy for injuries unless he falls off a scooter, which he didn’t get this ankle injury falling off his scooter. But still, just something to mention. It was just a tough year for him overall, and you just don’t know what he’s going to do with his draft stock now. He probably wouldn’t get drafted if he went out today, but you never know with workouts and all that. So I just think, overall, it’s kind of a disappointing season. NCAA Tournament, he didn’t play great. He only averaged 12 points a game in the NCAA Tournament. He shot decent: 40% from the field, 33% from 3. But really, they needed him to be what he played like in the NCAA Tournament last year, where he averaged more than 20 points a game, led them to the Final Four, obviously, and they didn’t get that out of them. And so I think, by all accounts, I don’t know if disappointment is too far, but he just did not live up to probably unfair high expectations, but he didn’t live up to them nonetheless. Gavin, what do you think about Johnny?
GC: I think disappointment is fair. I mean, I’m actually going to give him a higher grade, I’m going to give him a C-plus, not a C, just because I’ll try to stay away from recency bias, I guess, and give him a little credit with the injury, you know, kind of hampering him. But, like you said, just on this team, it’s such a deep team, like I mentioned with Mick, and he just has a very clear role. He does not do anything else for this team besides score. He’s a pretty pedestrian on-ball defender. He averaged under two assists the game, he’s a very, you know, offensive-minded, isolation, mid-range jumper shooter. And if he wasn’t sort of taking over games, he— you kind of would forget he’s on the court. And, you know, towards the second half of the year, it was kind of all Jaime Jaquez, and you forgot Johnny Juzang was there. And just, you know, coming into the year, he’s a guy that should have been talked about nationally. And he wasn’t really even being talked about as one of the top-two players on the team really. So, yeah, in March, he was alright. I thought— you wrote right here only two free throws each game in the NCAA Tournament. I think he easily could have been more aggressive and kind of just settled for a lot of mid-range jumpers. And I don’t really have much else to say. You kind of nailed everything on the head. And it was just kind of a disappointing season from a guy who’s supposed to be a top 5, 6, 7, 8 player in the whole country.
JC: Yeah. And just to emulate my favorite podcaster Zach Lowe of ESPN, he always brings in some more advanced analytical stats. You mentioned Johnny Juzang’s defense, his defensive rating per 100 possessions, provided by CBBAnalytics.com, ranked in the seventh percentile in the entire country, which is just not good enough. You can’t have that when you’re trying to win a title, and he just needs to improve on that. And if he wants to play in the NBA, I think, I think the off-ball shooting is there. But it’s just if he’s engaged or not, especially defensively, it’s going to determine that. And this year, it just wasn’t, and we have to give him a C for that and I think— or around the C, C-plus for Gavin. So, up-and-down season for Johnny to say the least. Moving on to Tyger Campbell. The team’s point guard this year played in 33 games, averaged just about 12 points a game. His assists numbers went down to 4.3 a game, and he had an average of a steal per game, which is good. I think the biggest thing with Tyger that you have to consider with this, just talking about expectations, is the shooting. Last year, he only shot 25%, I believe, from 3-point range. And they just needed better. Everyone talked about how he needed to improve. So, he had a ton of pressure coming in, and this year he lived up to that. He shot 41% from 3, which is just incredible. And it wasn’t on low volume either. I don’t have the stats in front of me how much he shot, but you could tell when you’re watching out there. He wasn’t like just making one a game or something. He was making multiple 3s a game from deep. He definitely improved. And for that, I have to give him an A this year. I know he wasn’t the team’s leading scorer. Only averaged 12 points a game. But he was just so important to everything, everything Mick Cronin wants out of a point guard. And you just see so much growth from him from year to year. Like I said, his assists per game numbers went down, but his assists-to-turnover percentage went up— or ratio went up, in that regard, so he’s not turning the ball over at all, which is perfect for what Mick Cronin wants to do. And the main thing, again, it’s just the shooting. He’s improved his shooting each year. I’m pulling up his true shooting percentage. His freshman year was in the 18th percentile of the entire country. To this year, his true shooting percentage was 56.8%, which puts him right at the 80th percentile, which is just what you need from a point guard nowadays. You can’t have someone who defenses can sack off, and you saw that in the NCAA Tournament, when he scored eight straight points to end the Akron game, had that deep 3 from the logo we all remember. And they were really in danger of losing that game until he kind of just said, “Hey, I’m going to take control.” And so I struggled with this grade a little bit. I didn’t know if I was being too generous, but coming in, expectations, he lived up to each one of them. He didn’t turn the ball over, he made shots, and he looked more aggressive as a driver. You can tell with defenses kind of actually respecting him by the end of the year. He was exactly what this team needs, exactly what a Mick Cronin team needs at the point guard position. What are your thoughts on Tyger Campbell, Gavin-minu
GC: Yeah, so I’m going to give him an A-minus, basically the same, I don’t disagree with really anything you said. I’m going to be a little hard. I feel like you said expectations were high and he lived up to them. But if it is based on expectations, there were just a few issues. I mean, he missed that one game violating team protocols. And, you know, as being the leader of the team, in terms of being the point guard, that doesn’t sit well with me at least. And also that game against USC, he did have kind of just a mental error, I guess, taking that corner 3 and kind of costing them at the end there. But I know these are very nitpicky things for a very great player. I think it’s so important, every single game the Bruins played, you were pretty certain that Tyger Campbell was the best point guard on the floor. And that’s just so valuable to know that you have someone who’s going to get everyone organized every time there was a good shot, shot selection, it was usually because of Tyger Campbell. I think people look at him and see 4.3 assists and probably think that, that’s, you know, good for college basketball. But I think that number even, you know, underestimates how vital he is to getting the team good shots when it’s not an isolation shot from one of the wings. So, yeah, I mean, the eight straight in the Akron game’s the only reason they really made it past there, and he played relatively well in the UNC game. I think, in terms of what he did throughout the whole season, like you said, the 3-point shooting was huge. And, like you said, he drove to the basket a lot more, I think especially pick-and-roll situation was kind of limited. Cody Riley was kind of on and off in terms of being a consistent player. And he kind of found ways to just do it by himself. I think last year, he relied a lot more on pick and roll to maybe drive and create, and it was more just him getting the basket and creating for others himself this year. So I really hope they give him a bigger role in terms of kind of trusting him at the end of games more. I think he was a very underrated clutch player. And he showed in that outcome game. And so I hope next year, they view him as sort of the guy to give the ball to in late moments and sort of take the team where they need to be.
JC: Yeah, and that’ll be especially interesting considering what happens with Johnny Juzang. He’s kind of been the guy the last two years in that regard. If he leaves, do they trust a freshman in Amari Bailey in those roles? Jaime Jaquez, who we’re going to get to in a sec, but did not shoot the ball particularly well from outside this year. They’re going to be— they’re going to have a gap there with who’s going to take the ball at the end of games. And you’re right, I think Tyger has earned some more playmakers, or more scoring responsibilities, and it’d be interesting to see how he lives up to those next year. Let’s go to Jaime Jaquez here. Jaime averaged just about 14 points per game. He led the team in rebounding with 5.7 per game. He also led the team in steals just a, with 39 total. He was, like Tyger, like Johnny, was an All-Pac-12 First Team member. And he was All-Pac-12 Defensive Team for the second straight year. Obviously, he dealt with injuries all year. His ankles bothered him. Like I said, the entire campaign he had it up and down in the sense that he didn’t, he was kind of hampered by injuries at the start of the year. And then he had that stretch in the middle of the season where he was just scoring 20 points a night like it was easy, just dominating in the paint. I’ve never seen a non, a big— he doesn’t, like, he’s listed as a forward, but he plays sometimes more like a guard. He’s just getting into the paint at will. Defenses didn’t know – he’s a matchup nightmare – if they should put their center, if they should put a forward, if they should put a guard on him. He just dominated, but then that ankle injury crept up on him in the tournament. He got hurt in the St. Mary’s game, toughed it out against the North Carolina game. I give him all the credit in the world for that. But you could just tell it was hampering him out there. He only went 5-for-18 in that North Carolina game. I wanted to give him an A, an A-minus. I just thought injuries are a part of the game, true, but just needed a little bit more from him down the— in those tournament and that UNC game specifically and probably a little bit more for him at the beginning of the year just to get things off and running. So, I landed on a B-plus for him. A little moderate down the middle there. I’ll be interested to see if he can keep his scoring towards the end of the year this year, if he comes back next year. If he can do that again next season for an entire season because if he does that, he’s Pac-12 Player of the Year. He’s a first-round pick. He’s a no-brainer All-American. So I’m just curious to see if this scoring was kind of fluky. I don’t think it was because I don’t think he was shooting particularly well from 3 or anything. He just made a concerted effort to get to the rim and he— guys cannot stop falling for his pump fake and all of that. So I think that’d be interesting for next year. But this year we’re talking about I gave him a B-plus. Gavin, what did you give him?
GC: So I’m going to surprise you a little bit here. I actually have been sort of all over the place in terms of his grade and just staring at some of the advanced offensive stats and just thinking more about everything you said, I’m giving him a solid A. It’s— I guess, I don’t know, the injuries obviously played a huge role. Just looking at some of the advanced stats, the reference you mentioned earlier, they have sort of color-coded ratings in terms of everything. And the only red or the only negative you can really say in his game is his 3-point shooting, as we mentioned. But he made a concerted effort, I think, to not shoot really at all, and it didn’t hamper his offensive performance. Like you said, he just got to a spot whenever he wanted. And for me, I just think the team relied on him so much. I know that there was expectations coming in the year, but I think Johnny was supposed to be what Jaime was for most of the second half of the season – just when the team needed a bucket, when they kind of, you know, when Tyger Campbell was out and there was not much control offensively. It was just, “Give him the ball, and just see what happened.” And there was just games, like you said, where he was unstoppable. And teams— the only way they could take him out was doubling him. And it seemed like it took teams really long to decide to start doubling him. So he had great first halves very often. But, yeah, I think I’m giving him a solid A. I think I remember last year in the Final Four run, I think it was Charles Barkley who said that, “This kid is my favorite player in the tournament,” and he probably couldn’t even pronounce his name correctly.
JC: He could not.
GC: But, I think it’s just something about him when he plays. He just doesn’t seem to make many errors. He does the dirty work on defense a lot of people don’t see. And I think people don’t realize how much pressure was on him towards the second half of the year because Johnny wasn’t giving much. We’ve mentioned the ankle injury and everything. And the team, you know, I talked about it so much – isolation offense. They just gave him the ball and prayed a lot. And he got the job done, so I’m going to give him a full A. I know it’s probably generous. I’m going to be a little harsher with some players down the stretch here. But I think he deserves a full A for just kind of carrying the team when they needed them.
JC: Want to hear my hot take for next year about Jaime Jaquez? If he comes back?
GC: Let’s hear it.
JC: I think he’s All-Pac-12 Player of the Year next year. If he stays healthy, if he comes back, I think he’s just got that much talent. You know, probably the favorite’s going to be someone from Arizona, or if Johnny comes back, someone like him. I really just think, I think Jaime is that dude, and I’m excited to watch him next year should he come back. Obviously, he could get drafted if he wanted to, but he didn’t even test the waters last year. So we’ll see. I’m going to speed through this one. I just wanted to give Jaylen Clark some love. Gavin, you can sit this one out if you want. I just— Jaylen Clark, I gave an A. I know that he didn’t play as much as the other guys – played half amount of minutes as Jaime, as Tyger. But based on expectations, he exceeded all of them. I think he had a tough year with injuries, with concussions. But he only averaged 6.7 points per game, really rebounded pretty well. Just his— he’s just such a game-changer out there when he came in the game. One that, in particular, I’m drawn to, again provided by CBBAnalytics.com, is his net rating. He had the best net rating on the team per 100 possessions, and I know that’s small sample size and all that, but he was a plus-23.5, and per 100 possessions, which was 98th percentile. The Jaylen-Clark-at-center lineups were by far the best on the lineup data. So he really— I think he’s guaranteed a starter spot next year regardless of who comes back. I think he’s that good. So I think he— I just, quickly, I just wanted to give him a shoutout, got an A for me. A few rapid-fire ones for me quickly. I gave Cody Riley a C-minus. He had a tough year with injuries, averaged seven points a game, obviously played a lot in the tournament. He looked great against St. Mary’s. I just think he was a bit overtasked at times. I think he’s better in a bench role 15, 20 minutes a game. What do I know? I’m just podcasting. Mick Cronin is making tons and tons of dollars. Last one in the starting lineup is Jules Bernard. I gave a B. Very solid player. Most underrated things, just took a lot more catch-and-shoot 3s this year, which is exactly what they needed. He only shot 33% on 3s, but he really increased his volume, and I think that was completely necessary. He played great in the tournament too. Shot nearly 40% from the field or he shot— no, he did shoot 44% from 3 in the tournament, led the team with I think 16, 17 points per game against North Carolina in the last game. So, Jules Bernard, just shoutout to him. B. Just solid, what they needed, played in every game. I like watching Jules Bernard there. I think it’s going to be sad to see him go. But we’re going to transition into the women’s basketball grades now if Gavin wants to take lead on that because he was our great women’s basketball reporter for the second year in a row. Congratulations on that, Gavin.
GC: Yeah, so women’s basketball went 18-13 this year, 8-8 in the Pac-12, and it’s actually the first time since 2014-2015 that they didn’t have a winning record in Pac-12. And same thing since 2014-2015, the last time they didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament. They went to the WNIT, won their first three games— or, sorry, first four games. They beat UC Irvine and Air Force pretty handily both times. Then they won a thriller in Wyoming in triple overtime. Wow, that was an amazing game. And then they beat Oregon State, their Pac-12 foe that they lost to during the regular season. A pretty impressive win to get to the semifinals of the WNIT where they lost. I mean a close game to South Dakota State for the second time this year. We’ll get to that later. But they lost in the semifinals. And the last time they were in the WNIT in 2014-2015, they did win it all. So not only is there the disappointment of not making it to the tournament, which certainly was expected from a team ranked in the top 25 coming into the year, but they also didn’t get the job done in the WNIT, and, you know, Charisma made it very clear – we’ll get to Charisma Osborne later – but she made it clear, I believe, after the Wyoming game that it was win or bust in terms of the WNIT. They were not expecting anything else but to win it all, and they didn’t get the job done. So, with that, we’ll jump into our grades. We’ll start with Cori Close, the coach, of course, and I’m going to give her a B. I know it’s a pretty boring grade, pretty average, but she had a lot on her plate. She had more on her plate last year when this team was a top-10 team throughout the— in basically the entire year. So I think you’d give her an A-plus-plus for last year. But this year, you don’t make the tournament, that’s, you know, people might think a B is generous for that.
JC: But especially at a school like UCLA, not making the tournament is a failure.
JC: But, like you said, she had some issues that she had no control over if you want to keep going.
GC: Right, yeah, I mean, she had a very different roster this year compared to last year. I believe there was a total of seven players who were not playing last year. You had, you know, transfers IImar’I Thomas, Jaelynn Penn, Angela Dugalić all expected to have big roles and not even mentioning Gina Conti to come into the year. I had a little hot take I tweeted that she was going to be an All-Pac-12 First Team player, and she didn’t play a single game, so there was a lot of adversity there. But I think a B, it seems like a fair grade in terms of just— with those injuries we had, Jaelynn Penn missed seven games with a wrist injury, Angela Dugalić missed multiple— double-digit games to start the season, and this team just really never had continuity in terms of the rotation. But she certainly didn’t live up to UCLA standards, and she talks so much about building this to a championship program, so B, maybe even a B-minus now that I think about it because, like you said, this is UCLA, but what about you, Jon? What are you giving her?
JC: You know what? I’m going to do a little bit of a cop-out here. I’m going to give her an incomplete. I know, I know that you can boo me. All the “Out of Bounds,” all of our great listeners can boo me. They can turn off the podcast now, but I just don’t think it’s fair to judge someone on this type of season with COVID, with injuries. I’ve never seen a team hit this hard with injuries. And it’s funny because we came— we were talking about it coming in. This is the deepest team they’ve had all year or in Cori Close’s tenure. I mean, and, because she had seven players play last year, obviously with COVID, with opt outs, all that, so we thought, “Wow, she’s finally going to get to see what she can do with a full roster.” And then she played a lot of games with seven players again. I just don’t know. I think if you made me give her a grade, B. Just something average like that. I’m just going to change it up, go with incomplete for right now. See how she does next year with five— with No. 1 recruiting class coming in, Charisma coming back. We’ll see how she does then. We can more fairly judge her unless she has another COVID, injury-filled season, which fingers crossed she does not.
GC: Yeah, let’s please not have another COVID year. But yeah, I think we’ll move on to the players, and we’ll start with Charisma Osborne. She is the face of this team coming into this year after Michaela Onyenwere left and went on to win WNBA Rookie of the Year. So, Charisma, she averaged 16 1/2 points a game, just under four assists, just over five rebounds and a steal and a half. Important thing to note is that she made it very clear coming into the year that she did not want to be the team’s starting point guard. She wanted to play off the ball like she did last year, but, like I mentioned, Gina Conti, who would have been the team’s starting point guard, missed the entire season, so you have to weigh that into things. She was, you know, expected to be an off-ball sort of scoring player and was put in a different role that she clearly did not want to be in. But, for her, I’m going to give her a B. And once again, I guess you could say it’s boring. She played 28 games, but she was hurt for most of the second half of the season with a knee injury, played it with a knee brace and was kind of hobbled throughout the season. But she only shot 36% from the field. I know that’s not much different from what she did last year, but if you’re supposed to be sort of the team’s most experienced scorer and sort of lead the team there, you would, you know, there’s more to be desired in terms of efficiency. In the WNIT, she kind of had similar numbers to what she had throughout the regular season. She did have 31 points on 8-of-20 shooting and 12-of-14 from the free-throw line in the quarterfinals of the WNIT but then followed that up with a 3-for-16 sort of poor performance – there’s no other way to put it – in their season finale. So I give her a B, and we’ll pass it on to Jon. We’ll see what he says.
JC: Yeah, I’m going to go with the same kind of answer I gave for Jaime Jaquez. Just another season. Just a lot of injuries. A lot of tough luck for her, and I don’t want to grade her down too much for that. I’ll give her a B-plus. I think she had— she was overtasked at point guard. She— I think one of her best really underrated skills is her defense. She really is like a guard the other team’s best ball handler, take them out of the game. And she couldn’t do that as much this year if you’re bringing the ball up on offense every time. I think that’s why you partially saw some of those injuries just that she was so overburdened, so overtasked with doing too much. And she didn’t have the best year obviously, but she did play very well. She is a, you said, 16 points a game. She averaged a steal and a half per game. In the WNIT, she averaged over two steals per game. Her efficiency— she’s not a very efficient player, only 36% from the field, but again, I think if you had the Gina Conti feeding her better looks instead of having her just give her the ball and say, “Izzy is your center. Get a bucket” or something like that. It’s just, it’s tough to ask any player, and she played well, I think. She got injured a lot. But she had some of those performances, like you said, the 31-point game in the WNIT quarterfinals just was a master class from her, and I think we’ll see more of that next year with Gina Conti coming back with Kiki Rice coming in. I think she had a tough year, and I think she’ll tough it out next year, and I think, like Jaime, Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate, All-American candidate, WNBA first-round pick candidate, so we’ll see. Also shoutout WNBA Draft, New York Liberty, team I’m cheering for, Nyara Sabally, tonight. Happy about that. But, Gavin, go ahead. Give me the next player.
GC: Yeah, we’re gonna go to Jaelynn Penn. She was one of the graduate transfers, coming off a four-year career at Indiana. She had a weird year last year. She only played 11 games before opting out for the rest of the season, but with the Bruins, she averaged 10 1/2 points a game, just under two assists a game, 4.6 rebounds. Now she shot only 36% and 26% from 3-point line, which really surprised me when I was going through her stats. And I’m— but I’m also going to surprise people with this grade. I’m giving Jaelynn Penn a solid A. I just feel like if we’re doing this based on expectations, she really overachieved. She averaged 9.5 points a game. Last year at Indiana, she averaged a full point more in a much more competitive conference where she was supposed to have a much smaller role than she did at Indiana. And it’s more anecdotal for her than statswise. But there are some big moments where, you know, Charisma and IImar’I, who we’ll get to later, were not providing enough both offensively and defensively. And Jaelynn Penn was sort of the, not only the third scorer but sort of the leader defensively. I know Charisma Osborne was the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team member, but in my opinion, Jaelynn Penn was put on the best player for the opposing team throughout the year, and she did a great job. She missed seven games, I believe, with a wrist injury, and that kind of set her back at times, but she came back and had a fantastic game against Oregon in the Pac-12 quarterfinals before ultimately missing a shot to tie the game. But I’ll give her a solid A, and we’ll pass it on to Jon. I don’t think he’s going to be as high on her as me. I don’t know. I have a thing for Jaelynn Penn. I think she was a great player for the Bruins this year.
JC: Yeah, I’ll go quick here. I don’t have much to say. Solid B season from her. Just did what she was supposed to you— like you said. I think just what you there on 26% from 3, 36% from the field. I struggle with giving someone, a guard with those kind of shooting splits, anything better than a B. But she, like Charisma, she didn’t sign up to be this team’s point guard. She didn’t sign up for this many ball-handling duties. That’s why they got Gina Conti, who didn’t play, and I really do think that was a big part. But she did what she was supposed to out there with the new expectations that were thrust upon her at the start of the year. So, I’ll give her a solid B. Fine season from Jaelynn Penn. It’s all I have to say, short and sweet.
GC: Yeah, it’s a bummer we’ll have to see her go. She was a fun interview. And it really did a lot for the team. Also, I’ll add real quick she was second on the team in terms of net rating with her, you know, 82 rating there, and other than this next player will get to, IImar’I Thomas, no one else, including Charisma, was even above 60 in terms of net rating. So I think Jaelynn Penn— you know, a lot of people might have not known her name throughout the year, but she was just so solid and consistent for the team. But like I said, next up, we’ll go to IImar’I Thomas, another graduate transfer, who was a fantastic scorer at Cincinnati, the all-time scoring leader for that program before she transferred to Westwood. She played all 31 games, which for this team, the past two years, you almost get an A just for that. She averaged 15.7 points a game, just under six rebounds. And another thing that stands out with her: 54% from the field, 40% from 3-point range after shooting much worse at Cincinnati, just 22% from behind the arc last year. I’m giving her a B-plus. She did nothing defensively. There’s no other way to put it. She struggled to get back on defense sometimes, and, you know, it kind of surprises me that she has a high defensive net rating. But I just feel like whenever someone wanted to score on her, they could. She had great performances in the WNIT. In her last game as a Bruin, she had 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but I’ll give her a B-plus. I feel like you have to contribute defensively, and there was some games where she disappeared. She had three points in the loss to Stanford. Three— or, six in the loss to Oregon. And so yeah, I’ll give her a B-plus, and we’ll pass it to Jon.
JC: I know the saying is defense wins championships, and you called her a bad defender. That all may be true, but I disagree with that. The best ability in basketball, in any sport, is availability. She played 31 games, all 31 games. This, in this type of season, that is the most valuable thing you can do, especially on a team like this. So you know what? I’m going to give her an A. I think she deserves it. She shot 40% from 3. That’s really good. That surprised me. Obviously, didn’t live up to the same Cincinnati expectation that she had. She scored 50 points in a game in Cincinnati. She’s struggled a little bit going against players her size in the Pac-12 – like you said – a better competition level. But, man, playing all 31 games, leading the team in defensive rating, averaging 16 points a game on really efficient shooting. If she shot, I mean, 54% from the field, it’s just incredible for someone that takes a lot of shots from the outside, and they needed that kind of offense. They needed all of that offense with Charisma in and out of the lineup, with other players not shooting well. We’ll get to Natalie Chou later, who struggled in that regard, but just with all that on her end. You know, Cori Close had a few – I don’t want to say passive aggressive, I don’t want to misquote her or anything – but you could tell she was frustrated a few times with their defensive effort, with their offensive efforts. So, I think she had some unfair expectations. And I think, just, again, playing all those games, being the team’s focal point running around, all that— I’ll give her an A. I was happy. I was disappointed she didn’t get to go out with an NCAA Tournament after transferring here, but I am happy she is getting some recognition on the “Out of Bounds” podcast. So, good year, IImar’I Thomas.
GC: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think, like you said, some unfair expectations, and she was pretty consistent for most of the year. I hate to end on sort of a low note in terms of player grades for the women’s team, but our last key player will be Natalie Chou, a graduate student as well, not a transfer. She transferred earlier in her career after playing at Baylor for a couple seasons.
JC: She transferred like four years ago now. It feels very long ago. It’s crazy. She was supposed to come here for what? One or two years? She’s been here in Westwood four years now. So interesting in that regard.
GC: Yeah, a very long career. And that’s kind of why I’m going to be harsh on her with her grade, I’m giving her a C-minus, and it was bordering D-plus. And it hurts me to say. I mean, Jon might give her a higher grade because, like IImar’I Thomas, she did play all 31 games, which once again, is quite a feat for this team. But she averaged 9.5 points a game, just over two assists, just over two rebounds and 1.6 steals. But for someone who’s supposed to be a pure shooter type of spot-up player, under 36% from the field, just over 36% from 3. And last year, she was far more efficient, just over 42% from the field and almost 40% from 3. So her efficiency went down, and there was such an opportunity for Natalie to have a really big impact on this team with some of the injuries and everything. There was games where Charisma Osborne went down, and we had players like Dominique Onu being thrown into sort of ball-handling roles and sort of, you know, being asked to do things that she should not be asked to do, and, sort of, Natalie Chou would just kind of sit there in the corner still and kind of be very quiet and nonimpactful at times. I think the best case of this was towards the end of the year. She had zero points on 0-of-5 shooting from the field against Oregon State, and Cori Close kind of responded by only playing her 20 minutes in that game and 25 in the final game against South Dakota State there in the WNIT. So towards the end of the year, Cori— you know as much as she wanted to play an experienced player like Natalie Chou, the minute decreased there when it mattered most. Kind of shows what season it was for her. So I’ll give her a C-minus bordering D-plus, and we’ll see if Jon gives her that availability boost like she did for IImar’I Thomas.
JC: Yeah, I think I have to at this point after how strongly spoken I was in the last one. I’m a little nostalgic. I love Natalie – one of my first interviews when I was a young women’s basketball reporter two years ago. She’s always been great to us. She really seems like a genuinely nice, great person. That’s why she’d been with the program so long. That’s why everyone raves about her. And, you know, we don’t, we’re not in the locker room, but I would trust the players there. She’s a great locker room player. I’ll give her a B-minus. I won’t be as hard as Gavin. I’ll give her a B-minus just in the sense that she played all 31 games. She did shoot 36% from the field or from 3, from the 3-point range I mean. And for just sitting in the corner, like you said, that’s a good number. It’s just the lack of improvement— or not improvement, but just the lack of— with more responsibility, she didn’t do as much. She’s kind of the same player all three years she was here. Disappointing in that regard. You wish she could be more of a ball-handler, only averaged two assists this year. Just a little disappointing from her in that regard, but I do think she can be proud hanging them up at UCLA after she gave it her all. She tried. Sometimes a little bit overtasked, like they say, with these ball-handling duties, and it’s just tough year. Last two years have been tough for, on everyone. I don’t want to be too harsh on her, but she didn’t have a great year. But Cori talked about her leadership, played all 31 games, shot 36% from 3— it’s all you can ask for, you know, solid B-minus year. You wish you had a little bit more scoring in that regard when she was a pretty highly sought after transfer from Baylor. Up-and-down career for her in Westwood. But in the sake of ending this podcast without going over 40 minutes, I— we feel bad. This was supposed to be a 25-minute episode. Me and Gavin just like talking about basketball a lot. So shoutout Zoe Willoughby, our podcast editor, for editing this as always, for bringing back “Out of Bounds” with me. Always appreciate her. Especially taking an hour and a half of her Monday night. So shoutout Zoe. But, yeah, that’ll wrap us up here from “Out of bounds.”
JC: So “Out of Bounds” is brought to you by the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper. You can listen to this show and others by the Daily Bruin on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud, and a transcript for this show is always available at dailybruin.com. If you want to leave us a nice review, that’d be great too. For all of our great, longtime “Out of Bounds” listeners, shoutout to you all. I’ll think of a nickname for you guys next time, but that’ll wrap us up. Thank you, Gavin, for joining me. Shoutout to all our listeners, and I’ll see you next time.