UCLA Basketball: 2019-20 is setting up nicely for Cori Close and her Bruins

With the commitment of the no.3 point guard in the nation for 2019, the UCLA basketball women’s team is setting up nicely for 2020.

Never count out Cori Close’s UCLA basketball program. No matter what, she finds a way to bounce back and it looks like the 2019-20 season will be the year she could bounce the Bruins into the upper echelon of NCAA Women’s Hoops.

RELATED: UCLA Gets a Commitment from 5-Star PG Jaden Owens

It wasn’t always like this. Close had a rocky start to her tenure. After two 25+ win seasons and consecutive trips to two NCAA Tournaments (both ending in the second round) by former coach Nikki Fargas, Close missed the Big Dance in her first season (2011-12) as her Bruins went fell to 14-16.

She had more luck in Year 2 as she went 26-8, but once again stumbled in the next two seasons with records of 13-18 and 19-18. But that 19-18 record in 2014-15 is deceptive if you do not know the story behind it.

Close might not have been winning a lot of games, but she was slowly getting wins in recruiting. Close brought in six recruits that year: Chrissy Baird, Monique Billings, Kelli Hayes, Lajahna Drummer, Reecee’ Caldwell (later transferred to Cal) and Jordin Canada. Mixed with a veteran core consisting of Kari Korver, Corinne Costa, and Nirra Fields, despite needing a bit of time to find their groove, things were starting to click for the Bruins, especially in the post-season.

UCLA Basketball Head Coach Cori Close’s Record by Season

  • 2011-12: 14-16 (9-9 Pac-12)
  • 2012-13: 26-8 (14-4 Pac-12) | NCAA 2nd Rd.
  • 2013-14: 13-18 (7-11 Pac-12)
  • 2014-15: 19-18 (8-10 Pac-12) | WNIT Champs
  • 2015-16: 26-9 (14-4 Pac-12) | NCAA Sweet Sixteen
  • 2016-17: 25-9 (13-5 Pac-12) | NCAA Sweet Sixteen
  • 2017-18: 27-8 (14-4 Pac-12) | NCAA Elite Eight

The Bruins ended the 2014-15 regular season 12-17 (8-10). Unless they outright won the Pac-12 Tournament, their season could have been over. A win over Arizona and a loss to #19 Stanford was all they got, but it was good enough for a surprising NIT berth. It is an understatement to say they made them count. Close’s Bruins rattled off five straight wins in the tournament to capture the 2015 Women’s NIT Championship. The Bruins got a huge boost from freshman Canada in that game as she put up 31 points. Something was definitely Bruin.

In the next three seasons, with Canada leading the way, Close and UCLA would win 25 or more games each year. The pinnacle of that came last season when Canada, Billings and the rest of the squad navigated through a treacherous 2017-18 schedule to go 27-8 and get to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1999.

Like Canada, 5-star PG Jaden Owens is going to be a game changer.

Unfortunately, Canada, Billings, and Hayes have moved on and replacing their contributions is not going to be easy. Even though Close has continued to recruit, develop and coach well, the 2018-19 season might take a step back in production. And that is fine because the 2019-20 season is going to be quite exceptional.

This fall, senior Japreece Dean will be the bridge to the following season, but will also bring her talents to the forefront before she goes. Last season she was fourth on the team in scoring 7.7 points per game as a backup to Canada. She will have to carry the team, though she will need to get up to speed quickly. She doesn’t have to be exactly like Canada, but learning behind the former Bruin is going to help out her development.

The Bruins should also get help from Drummer, Chrissy Baird, Ashley Hearn, and Kennedy Burke, but they are also gone after 2018-19. But luckily the 2017 recruiting class will be juniors by the time the 2019-20 season rolls around.

One of the women out of that class, Michaela Onyenwere, is expected to make a huge jump in development. Last season she added 6.9 ppg (5th on UCLA) and 4.7 rpg (3rd on the team), so she will be a seasoned low-post threat and potential starter. Chantel Horvat should also be a major weapon, especially with her outside shooting. If Close can also get a little more out of Ally Rosenblum, Lindsey Corsaro, Layla Owens and Lauryn Miller, the better set they will be for 2019-20.

This fall, UCLA gets some help up top and down low from some incoming freshmen. 6’5 Shayley Harris will help in the post as she brings height to the roster. The backcourt thickens up with depth as 3-star PG Kiara Jefferson and standout guard, 5-star guard Ahlana Smith joins the team. After a year in Westwood, they should be well-prepared to help UCLA Women’s basketball become national contenders.

A bold statement, yes, but by 2019-20, UCLA will also have added a spitfire point guard. One who just committed to the Bruins.

Like Canada, 5-star PG Jaden Owens is going to be a game changer. Though Close will have to add a few more post players by 2019-20, UCLA might be in a better position for Owens to help the Bruins rise than Canada was in her freshman season.

So by the time the 2019-20 rolls around, Close’s team will have a solid foundation, several upperclasswomen, tons of talent and experience in both the post-season and playing against Top 25 teams. If the UCLA Women’s basketball team was going to make it to the upper echelon of college basketball, the 2019-20 season could be the start for the Bruins and their head coach.