The UCLA basketball women’s team were unable to find paradise in the Virgin Islands after three straight losses in the Thanksgiving holiday tournament. They now return home to try and fix things before it gets out of hand.
If you did not realize what a big deal former UCLA basketball players Jordin Canda and Monique Billings were to this team, then the Bruins’ 3-4 start to the 2018-19 season should clear things up.
Head coach Cori Close and her Bruins had an inauspicious start to the new season when they were upended by Loyola Marymount in the season opener, sans their two superstars who are now in the WNBA. It was the Bruins’ first game without Canada and Billings and it showed just how much the former Bruins were missed.
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UCLA narrowly lost that opener, 69-63. There was some good that came from it as we saw what the future could hold as Japreece Dean, Kennedy Burke, and Lindsey Corsaro stepped up in that game, but collectively, the Bruins needed to find a way for the team to play more cohesively. The next three games moved toward that narrative as they won three in a row against Rice, #14 Georgia, and Seton Hall.
The game against Georgia was promising as we not only saw the Bruins comeback and outscore the Bulldogs 31-18 in the 4th quarter to get the 80-69 win, but the team chemistry was a lot more apparent. We also saw the start of the rise of sophomore Michaela Onyenwere who scored 25 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and added 4 assists, 2 steals, and a block in that game.
With a 3-1 record and a win over a ranked team under their belt, things were starting to click for the Bruins. That was until they got jammed in paradise.
Last Thursday (Thanksgiving), the Bruins ran into a wall in the first game of the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands as they were trounced by North Carolina, 83-49. The Bruins had one of the worst shooting games in recent history as they were only able to connect on 16/61 shots (26.2%) for the game!
UCLA performed better in Game 2 against Kentucky as the Bruins pushed the Wildcats to overtime, only to come up short by a single point in a 75-74 loss. The Bruins put forth more of a defensive effort in this game as they limited UK to only six points in the third quarter after being down 41-31 at halftime. This was another game in which Onyenwere made a statement as she put up 28 points on 12/18 shooting. It was something to build off of, which the Bruins attempted to do in their third and final game in the Paradise Jam against #17 South Florida.
Though they did not get blown out as they did in their first game, the result was still a loss depsite a close 60-56 defeat. The Bruins’ trip to paradise was anything but as they return to Westwood 0-3 in the tournament and 3-4 overall.
Close has confidence in her players and believes they can be better than last year. If that is the case, now is the time to prove it.
With the Bruins adjusting to their new roster, it was not a secret that it was going to take time for this squad to find their way, but if this trip was any indication of how long that would take, it might be longer than expected.
The issue is trying to replace two players that were effective on both ends of the court. Not that Close’s team doesn’t have those players, but rather, she has to figure out a way to make this squad work as one.
Dean has been the primary choice to run the point, but has needed help to move the offense along. Corsaro has been able to help where she can, but it is clear there is not a premier point guard on this team (Dean came off the bench in the UK game). So who will step up?
Down low, the Bruins have found a replacement for Billings in Onyenwere, but she is still developing. UCLA would benefit from another frontcourt presence helping out. Lajahna Drummer is aiding in the rebounding department (she leads the team with 9.0 rpg), but is not as skilled in scoring.
This was going to take some time and even though the Bruins had a trip to forget, there is still time to turn things around. UCLA has five games remaining in the non-conference season, with four being played at Pauley Pavilion. This is a good time for Close and the Bruins to tighten the screws and focus on the things that are working.
One way to do that is center the game around senior leader Burke. Not only is she leading the team in scoring (15.3 ppg), but she also has the drive to push her team forward. You can see it in the way she plays. When the ball is in her hands, she is no-nonsense and just wants to score. The Bruins need to make that a center point.
UCLA has the rest of this week to get things back on track. Their next game is on Sunday as they welcome Indiana to Westwood, plenty of time to tighten the screws and work out an effective gameplan. Close has confidence in her players and believes they can be better than last year. If that is the case, now is the time to prove it.