Women’s basketball sees new faces on roster for season-opening match with Cal Poly
Women’s basketball players and coach Cori Close smile on the court. Graduate student guard Gina Conti missed the 2021-2022 season because of injury but is expected to lead the Bruins in the backcourt this year. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
Nov. 7, 5:30 p.m.
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Nov. 6, 2022 10:29 p.m.
Several athletes will don the blue and gold for the first time when the Bruins open their season Monday.
Graduate student guard Gina Conti and the five freshman members of the nation’s top recruiting class will all play their first games as Bruins and first contests in Pauley Pavilion when UCLA women’s basketball hosts Cal Poly on Monday night. The women’s game is the first of a doubleheader in the Westwood arena, as the men’s basketball team will commence its season directly afterward on the same court.
Conti will finally make her Bruin debut in the opening game of her sixth collegiate season after transferring to UCLA and immediately missing all of the 2021-2022 season with a foot injury. Meanwhile, freshman guards Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones and freshman forwards Gabriela Jaquez, Lina Sontag and Christeen Iwuala will play their first college games.
Monday will be the first opportunity to see the lineups and rotations coach Cori Close will use to manage a relatively inexperienced Bruin lineup.
At Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day, Close said to expect constant shuffling with the Bruins’ initial starting lineup and midgame rotations both on Monday and in every game this season.
“You’re going to see a lot of different starting lineups as we go along here and as people morph and grow,” Close said. “I would say there’s going to be lots of opportunities, and on any given night, you’re to see a lot of different things.”
With redshirt sophomore forward Angela Dugalić out for the season after tearing her ACL over the summer and fellow redshirt sophomore forward Izzy Anstey unlikely to play with an injury of her own, more than half of the Bruins available against the Mustangs will have never played a game for UCLA.
Senior guard Charisma Osborne – UCLA’s only preseason All-Pac-12 member and reigning leader in points and assists per game – is the Bruins’ only returning starter from last season. After being slated to play point guard because of Conti’s injury last campaign, Osborne is expected to play her preferred off-ball role, considering Conti, Rice and Jones are all more natural point guards.
Rice – who signed Jordan Brand’s first name, image and likeness deal and became its youngest athlete Oct. 31 – said she expects to bring aggression in the open court to the Bruin backcourt.
“The best attribute of my game is probably my ability to get downhill and attack in transition,” Rice said. “That’s really what I excel at, and I’m able to translate that over to the college level.”
Rice anticipates joining Osborne in the starting lineup every week, at least according to herself and Osborne.
When asked to make predictions, both Rice and Osborne listed the same starting five of Rice, Osborne, senior guard Camryn Brown, redshirt sophomore forward Emily Bessoir and either Conti or redshirt sophomore guard Dominique Onu, depending on the opponent.
Regardless of lineups and rotations, Osborne said the entire team is flexible and willing to adjust and sacrifice for Close’s wants and instruction.
“Honestly, with this team, everyone is just so open to doing whatever role Coach Cori (Close) has for each and every one of us,” Osborne said. “Everyone is just super excited for the season and is willing to do whatever it takes for our team to be at the top.”
Monday will be the first game for Bessoir since March 2021 after she missed her entire second season with a torn ACL. In her true freshman season, Bessoir averaged more than 20 minutes per game for the Bruins and made two starts.
Meanwhile, Brown and Onu are looking to build off last year’s campaign, in which they averaged 16.6 and 19.9 minutes per game and started six and seven games, respectively.
Close emphasized that the team’s drive for growth is what will take them far this season.
“Everyone right now is willing to dream big, but not everyone is willing to work big,” Close said. “This is a group that is willing to work big, and this is a group that is willing to be coached hard. … With the absence of that mentality, you’re not going to be competing for a championship.”
Despite the Bruins not being ranked in the initial AP Top 25 Poll, Close has made it clear that it is indeed still her team’s ultimate goal to hang a banner in Pauley.
“As we try to do something at UCLA that hasn’t been done since 1978, you have to have uncommon women willing to make uncommon habits if you expect to yield an uncommon result,” Close said. “I do believe they’re willing to develop uncommon habits.”
The quest for a historic season begins at Pauley Pavilion on Monday at 5:30 p.m.