Despite a rough patch to enter Pac-12 Conference play, the Women’s UCLA basketball team is finding their groove which could propel them to the top of the standings by season’s end.
Do not let the 13-4, 4-2 record and a 5th place standing in the Pac-12 worry you, the women’s UCLA basketball team is very dangerous this season. Behind the brains and braun of head coach Cori Close, PG Jordin Canada and F Monique Billings, these Bruins have the makings for major success this season, but it has not been easy and will continue to be a challenge.
Before the season started, UCLA was predicted to win the Pac-12. They also had Canada and Billings named to a few preseason award watch lists. It was a set up for a good season, but it would take a lot of work.
So far this season, the #13 UCLA Bruins have already played five ranked teams, going 3-2 in those games (they are also 6th in the Strength of Schedule rankings), but it doesn’t end there. Including tonight with the Bruins hosting #21 Cal, they have four more games against ranked teams. In the conference schedule, they played the Goliath #1 UCONN Huskies (which ended in a loss), but also blasted #3 Baylor.
The Bruins even had to endure a tough road trip that bridged the non-conference and Pac-12 schedule. Starting with a road game at Oklahoma State (which was a loss), UCLA then had to travel to Seton Hall, Fordham, Stanford and #20 Cal, going 3-2 in that stretch, with a disappointing loss to Stanford, but wiped the floor with Cal on their home court (it was also the first time in six games UCLA won a game at Berkeley).
And now analyzing the start of Pac-12 play, three out of four of UCLA’s opening conference games were against ranked teams. Unfortunately they went 2-2 in that stretch. After the trip to the Bay Area in the opening weekend, UCLA came home and annihilated #16 Oregon State, but followed that up with a home loss to #9 Oregon. Can’t the Bruins get a break?
Not really and it doesn’t matter because the Bruins bounced back last weekend for the second road trip of the conference season with a sweep of the mountain schools. UCLA faced good competition against Utah, but eventually won 81-74. The Bruins continued their mountain assault a few days later with a 93-55 thrashing of Colorado.
Considering what the Bruins have been through, 13-4, 4-2 is not a bad place to be in and with UCLA just two games out of first place in the Pac-12, they still have plenty of time to make a run for some hardware. But let us not get ahead of ourselves, there is still work to be done.
At this point in the season, UCLA seems to be finding their mojo. Canada and Billings have been a constant for the Bruins as they are not just at the top of several Pac-12 stats, but national as well. Canada is 11th in the country with 6.9 assists per game. Billings is 73rd in the country with 8.9 rebounds per game. And then when you looking at scoring, Canada leads the team with 14.9 ppg (10th in the Pac-12) and Billings is right behind her with 14.6 (11th on the Pac-12).
On top of that, both have hit or are on their way to hitting milestones with UCLA. Last week, Canada became UCLA’s all-time leader in assists with 700. She also hit the 1,800 point-700 assist mark which has only been claimed by one other Pac-12 basketball player, Oregon State’s Gary Payton.
Things are in motion and the Bruins have a lot in their arsenal, but as stated before, it will not just be handed to them. They are going to have to continue to Fight, Fight, Fight.
Billings has already captured the record for all-time blocks and currently has 199, averaging 1.6 per game in her career. She is also 22 rebounds from 1,000, which she could very well tackle in the next few games. When she does, she will only be the 21st Pac-12 player to accomplish that feat.
But the production doesn’t stop there. Kennedy Burke has been a reliable third scoring option and is also getting double-digit points with 10.5 (26th on the Pac-12). Japreece Dean has come alive recently, most notably during conference play. In the last six games, she is putting up 10.2 ppg (8.6 average for the season).
There is also a freshman emerging as a force under the basket as Michaela Onyenwere, former 5-star and #10 player in high school last season, is averaging 8.1 ppg. This past week, she was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week after she averaged 15.5 points and 10.0 rebounds against Utah and Colorado.
It is coming together. Things are in motion and the Bruins have a lot in their arsenal, but as stated before, it will not just be handed to them. They are going to have to continue to Fight, Fight, Fight. UCLA is mindful of their opponents and it will be no different going forward. Obviously, the more wins they get, the more they continue to move up in the standings, staying in contention for a Pac-12 Championship, which is still a possibility. So with that we say, Go Bruins!