Lauren Betts: UCLA women’s basketball’s missing piece in quest for Pac-12 title
Lauren Betts: UCLA women’s basketball’s missing piece in quest for Pac-12 title

Sophomore center Lauren Betts is pictured holding the basketball at her hip. Betts – standing at 6-foot-7 – is the tallest UCLA women’s basketball player in 9 years. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

By Grace Whitaker

November 5, 2023 at 11:47 p.m.

UCLA women’s basketball suited up to play in the Sweet 16 for the first time in four years.

Its time in the sun swiftly ended, however, after facing a formidable opponent: coach Dawn Staley’s South Carolina. Following four quarters of a struggle in the paint against the Gamecocks’ post-heavy scheme, the Bruins exited March Madness exposed.

They were missing a piece, something they’d lacked for five years – a center.

Luckily for coach Cori Close, a particular center – one who was ranked the No. 1 recruit in her class – made the decision to transfer out of the Stanford program.

After one year with the Cardinal, Lauren Betts searched for a new place to call home. It was Close and UCLA, a program whose missing piece was something only she could fill, that caught her gaze.

The sophomore, who measures in at six feet, seven inches, will be the tallest player on UCLA’s roster since the 2014-15 season.

The now-Bruin spent her first year at Stanford as the squad’s backup center. During her time, she averaged 5.9 points per game on 9.7 minutes played and had yet to grab a collegiate start. Betts also boasts a Pac-12 regular-season championship, something UCLA hasn’t claimed since 1999.

“I was practicing against the best of the best every day,” Betts said.

Ultimately, Betts – who was blocked by center Cameron Brink on the depth chart – was drawn elsewhere, and after opting to transfer, UCLA demanded her attention.

“My decision coming to this school was made because of my morals and what I believe in and in my relationships between me and coaches, and not because of other things,” Betts said. “I came here because I wanted to have a good relationship between me and my coaches, and I felt like I truly belong here, and I fit in well with this family.”

The center also described her familiarity with different aspects of the Bruin program. Close recruited Betts prior to her time with Stanford and coached her in 2021 at the FIBA U19 World Cup tournament. Additionally, Betts garnered experience competing alongside sophomore guards Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones in Team USA tournaments and sophomore forward Gabriela Jaquez in the McDonald’s All-American Game.

Prior to joining the familial environment housed in Westwood, family and basketball were always intertwined for Betts.

Andy Betts, Lauren’s father, was a professional basketball player in Europe for 14 years. Lauren recalled watching him play before she even picked up a ball. Today, the center said her dad is one of her greatest mentors.

“My dad definitely was a big reason as to why I started playing basketball in the first place,” Lauren Betts said. “He’s a really good mental coach as well. He pushes me a lot.”

(Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Betts is shown tossing the basketball in Pauley Pavilion. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Eventually, when Lauren was old enough to give basketball a try, her height always seemed to set her apart, said her mother, Michelle Betts. And beyond that, Michelle added that basketball was different for Lauren from other sports she tried because of the joy she exhibited while playing.

“She, being so much taller than everybody else, I just felt that there was so much potential there even just for that,” Michelle Betts said. “But on top of that, I remember her very first basket. Me and her dad and my parents and her siblings were all there, and I remember her making her very first basket, and she just looked so happy.”

On the road to Division I basketball, the center had a laundry list of accomplishments on her basketball resume: McDonald’s All-American, two-time USA Basketball gold medalist, Jordan Brand Classic All-American, WBCA High School Player of the Year, Colorado State Champion and two-time Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year.

Lacking a center like Lauren, UCLA frequently fell short in high-stakes matchups due to an element that was literally out of their reach. In nine of its losses in the 2023-24 campaign, UCLA fell victim to the strengths that taller teams possess. The Bruins gave up 26 and 28 points in the paint against Stanford and South Carolina, respectively, two teams with post-heavy offensive strategies.

Lauren, however, fills the void Close had searched to fill.

“Coach Tasha (assistant coach Tasha Brown) … calls her our superpower,” Close said. “We’ve been wanting somebody like that on both ends of the floor.”

(Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Betts is pictured crossing over the ball in the center of the court. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Following Lauren’s performances at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup in June, Close said it was sweet revenge watching her new center defend South Carolina’s center Kamilla Cardoso, the player who gave her trouble in the Sweet 16 just a few months prior.

While attending the AAU tournament game at Nike Nationals, Close recalled discussing the joy she experienced watching Lauren in the AmeriCup and the relief of having a designated “rim protector.”

“Dawn Staley turned around to me and said, ‘Oh my gosh, Lauren Betts is playing so well,’ and I sort of smiled because I said, ‘Dawn I have to be honest with you, I did get great joy out of watching her play great defense against Cardoso,’” Close said.

However, it would be remiss to chalk all of Lauren’s success to her stature alone. The center achieved ample success on the floor prior to college and her Team USA appearances.

Most recently, Lauren had a breakout performance while competing for Team USA in the 2023 FIBA AmeriCup this summer alongside graduate student guard Charisma Osborne.

After a freshman campaign with minimal minutes, Lauren entered the tournament fresh off of her transfer announcement ready to break records. And she did exactly that.

During the course of the nine-day long tournament, the center averaged a double-double and broke the AmeriCup Women’s Competition rebounding record for USA basketball. In addition, Osborne and Lauren established chemistry on the court throughout the breadth of the tournament, potentially foreshadowing their upcoming season for the Bruins.

In Lauren’s eyes, she brings not only a winning pedigree and championship mindset, but a strong inside presence on the court.

“I told Coach Cori that I just really want to make sure that we win this year, and I’m willing to do whatever, so if she wants to have a really good inside presence, then I’m going to do that,” Lauren Betts said.

On the precipice of a new season, UCLA and Lauren are looking for more, and they’re looking for it on a national stage.

Wherever the 2023-24 season takes the Bruins, Lauren said she’s ready to make a statement, and she wants to make it at UCLA.

“I came here because I want to win the Pac-12,” Lauren Betts said. “I want to win a national championship.”

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