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Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day: UCLA prepares for resilient comeback season

Freshman guard Kiki Rice and coach Cori Close discuss the Bruins’ season at Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day in San Francisco on Tuesday. (Courtesy of Jan Kim Lim/UCLA Athletics)

By Gavin Carlson

Oct. 27, 2022 3:20 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 27 at 10:05 p.m.

At her first Pac-12 media day, freshman guard Kiki Rice laid out her lofty goals for the Bruins.

“The opportunity here to be a part of the first group to make it to a Final Four (and) win a national championship is something that really appealed to me,” Rice said.

But despite UCLA women’s basketball holding the nation’s top recruiting class – which featured Rice as espnW’s No. 2 prospect in the 2022 class – the blue and gold was picked to finish just inside the top four in its own conference and was left out entirely in the national rankings.

Senior guard Charisma Osborne – the lone Bruin selected to the preseason media All-Pac-12 team – joined Rice and coach Cori Close in San Francisco to represent the blue and gold at the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day, which took place the same day the poll results were announced.

The predictions come after the blue and gold finished seventh in the conference last year and missed the NCAA tournament before saying goodbye to five players at the end of the season. Stanford, Oregon and Arizona were the three teams slotted to finish higher than UCLA.

UCLA was the only team predicted to finish in the top four in the Pac-12 that does not have at least two players in the preseason All-Pac-12 team. Despite having yet to play a game at the collegiate level, Rice was the only Bruin given an All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Despite last season’s struggles, Osborne echoed Rice’s sentiments and said this UCLA team can not only see success in the Pac-12 but ultimately make a deep postseason run.

“We know how it felt last year to not make the tournament, so I know I never want to have that feeling again,” Osborne said. “In practice, everyone has just been showing that we’re capable of making the tournament and even going to the Final Four and winning a national Championship.”

Osborne – who attended Pac-12 Media Day for the second straight season – is coming off a second consecutive All-Pac-12 season that included top-five finishes in the conference in points per game and total assists. But her 2021-2022 season also included several injuries that forced her to play with knee and ankle braces while occasionally missing game time.

Now heading into her final season with the Bruins in 2022-2023, Osborne is fully healthy and ready to show why she is a top player in the nation and surefire WNBA-level talent, according to Close.

“Charisma is, I believe, one of the most complete guards in the entire country,” Close said. “Her ability to get downhill, her ability to shoot the 3, her ability to defend any position, her ability to play different positions makes her a really great pro prospect. The sky’s the limit for her.”

Osborne is one of just four upperclassmen on the UCLA roster this season, as the Bruins expect to receive valuable minutes from several of the five freshmen that make up the No. 1 recruiting class.

But the blue and gold is not alone in its conference in terms of recent recruiting success, as Pac-12 foes Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State all recruited top-five classes in the country while Arizona and Washington’s classes ranked No. 8 and No. 14 respectively.

While UCLA’s incoming freshmen group has gained plenty of attention because of its top ranking, Close said it won’t be able to succeed unless the team’s four redshirt sophomores, four seniors and single graduate student lead the way.

“No offense, but the recruiting class has not earned anything yet, and they’ve not experienced anything yet,” Close said. “They really need that older group to be rock-solid and anticipatory and selfless and really show the way.”

It’s not yet clear who in that older group will lead the way on the court, as graduate student guard Gina Conti and redshirt sophomore forward Emily Bessoir are both returning from injuries that forced them to miss all of last season. Redshirt sophomore forward Izzy Anstey is also currently battling an injury of her own, and redshirt sophomore forward Angela Dugalić has already been ruled out for the season with a torn ACL as well.

With injured upperclassmen and new faces throughout the roster, Osborne is not only expected to be one of the best blue and gold’s best players, if not the best; she’ll also be a leader as one of the most tenured players on the team.

According to Rice, she’s already stepping into the leadership role that may be necessary in order for UCLA to reach its lofty personal goals.

“Charisma (shows up) every single day in practice. She’s so so consistent,” Rice said. “She sets an example for us all, especially us freshmen. To see someone who’s experienced so many practices, so many games, and her ability to – every single day – come out and be a leader, be vocal and be consistent, it’s been great.”

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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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