UCLA Basketball: What to expect from the women’s team this season

The UCLA basketball women’s team is preparing for the 2018-19 season, but what is to be expected in the post-Canada/Billings era? More Cori Close competitiveness, that’s what.

It is hard when a team loses a superstar. It is even harder when they lose two. That is the dilemma UCLA basketball head coach Cori Close has to deal with for the upcoming 2018-19 season.

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Last year, Jordin Canada and Monique Billings led the Bruins to their first Elite Eight appearance since 1999. Though UCLA was expected to win the Pac-12 and eventually fell short of that goal, UCLA made huge strides during their 2017-18 campaign.

Unfortunately, Canada and Billings have both moved onto the WNBA (with Canada winning a championship with the Seattle Storm in her rookie season).

So with two key players removed from the roster, what can we expect this fall/winter?

Let us first address which player will be taking over for Canada at the point, Japreece Dean. Clearly, the obvious choice as she backed up Canada last season, but she has some big shoes to fill as the former Bruin averaged 17.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game. Dean logged 7.7 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.

If needed, UCLA’s third-best scorer from last year, Kennedy Burke, could help out as a floor general. Not only did she average 10.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, but she had the second most assists on the team behind Canada, but will she be needed more on the outside?

Burke had the third-most field goal attempts and fourth most three-point attempts last season, so she could be UCLA’s key long-range threat around the perimeter. If she is needed on the wing, UCLA also has 4-star point guard joining the rotation, freshman Kiara Jefferson.

Projected UCLA Women’s Basketball 2018-19 Starting Lineup

  • PG: Japreece Dean, Kiara Jefferson
  • SG: Kennedy Burke, Ahlana Smith, Kayla Owens
  • SF: Chantel Horvat, Chrissy Baird, Lindsey Corsaro
  • PF: Michaela Onyenwere, Lauryn Miller, Ally Rosenblum
  • C/F: Lajahna Drummer, Shayley Harris

UCLA also has another flashy freshman on the roster, 5-star guard Ahlana Smith who will help the Bruins on the wing and bring the fire as Canada did.

Still, UCLA is deep on the wing and could rotate in several Bruins which will help keep them fresh, and that will be needed in Close’s uptempo offense. Chantel Horvat is another one of the better outside shooters on the team and will carve out a nitch for herself this season. Kayla Owens is another sharpshooter that could see time on the wing, but Close also has Chrissy Baird and Lindsey Corsaro in her arsenal.

One of the frontcourt players that we are especially excited to see is Michaela Onyenwere. Last year as a freshman, she showed her prowess under the basket on both ends of the court. Not only could she score, but she was a defensive threat that made opponents think twice when they tried to drive the lane. She might have only averaged 6.9 ppg and 4.7 rpg, but she also logged three double-doubles, was a one-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week and named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.

Behind her, we should see Lauryn Miller and Ally Rosenblum. Miller was money from under the basket as she led the Bruins in field goal percentage (.543). Rosenblum played limited minutes last season, but that should increase with Billings moving on.

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At the five spot, Lajahna Drummer will the frontrunner to fill in for Billings. The redshirt senior was second on the team in rebounding in 2017-18 with 6.8 per game, so that should help replace Billings production on the board, but she has some ground to make up around the rim. Drummer had 6.3 ppg, which is considerably less than Billings’ 15.3. Though the Bruins have scorers from the outside, they would greatly benefit from Drummer becoming an offensive threat,

Close also brought in some frontcourt help in addition to the guards that have joined the roster this season. At 6’6, freshman Kayley Harris is the tallest player on the team and can dominate the low post. She brings defense, length and helps in the transition game.

It will still be a bit of a project to get this team to mesh after the loss of Canada and Billings, but consistency will be the key for UCLA as they return most of their roster. If Dean can control the offense and the newbies can contribute good minutes, there is no reason why they should not be considered as a favorite for the Pac-12 title in 2018-19.