Any questions around UCLA beginning the season ranked higher than they have been in almost three years was put to bed after their opener Monday.
The No. 4 Bruins shot 54.7 percent from the field, 46 percent from three, and out-rebounded Purdue, 40-22, en route to a 92-49 win. All five starters were in double figures, and the team scored 26 points off of turnovers. But the statistic that most impressed coach Cori Close was the number of assists her team had.
“All season long we’ve been emphasizing work ethic and selflessness…..and 29 assists on 35 made field goals speaks to the selflessness,” she said.
It was the kind of performance that Close, in her 13th year in Westwood, expects of her veteran-laden squad, which returned to the Sweet 16 last season for the first time in four years. The difference this winter, however, is that UCLA has added a center for the first time since 2018, in 6-7 Stanford transfer Lauren Betts. Her presence, as well as the return of forward Angela Dugalic, could take her program to the next level.
Against the Boilermakers, Betts scored an efficient 20 points in 20 minutes on 9-11 shooting, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked two shots. This helped limit their opponents to 34 percent shooting.
Betts said she is happy to clog the paint.
“I think I bring presence, and that helped our shooters get open tonight,” she said.
Dugalic also made a statement with 13 points in 20 minutes after missing last season – and a half season before that – to injury. The addition of two big bodies to the lineup means the Bruins can rely on their cadre of formidable guards less heavily than they have had to in recent years.
Fifth-year senior Charisma Osborne has carried much of the load during her career, as both the statistical and emotional leader. Last season Kiki Rice, who was No. 2 in her class, and Londynn Jones, arrived to give UCLA a 1-2-3 guard punch. All three have been nominated for 2023-2024 preseason award lists, and each scored in double figures against Purdue – Rice with a double-double.
The Bruins lost just one starter last year in Gina Conti, and one bench player. Senior starting forward Emily Bessoir, who has acted like a guard sometimes, returns, as does fifth-year reserve senior guard Camryn Brown. A trio of solid sophomore forwards is back in Gabriela Jaquez, Christeen Iwuala and Lina Sontag, as is senior forward Izzy Anstey. The only other newbie to the roster, besides Betts, is freshman forward Amanda Muse.
Jones said UCLA has meshed quickly due to confidence and a common goal.
“We are extremely powerful this year,” she said. “We work extremely hard, and we know what each other does very well. We make sure everyone gets involved. It doesn’t matter who scores or who gets the credit, as long as we’re playing hard.”
Close said she’d like to see the Bruins become more physical defensive rebounders, guard opponents better one-on-one, and take better care of the ball. But she’s also pleased by many things she sees so far.
“We got the ball the the paint consistently, and we dominated the offensive glass,” she said. “Every single scrimmage we had, we shot 45 percent or better from three, and that’s new for us.”
Most importantly, however, is that UCLA is on the same page.
“We really do care about the team above ourselves…..this team is really committed to that,” Close said.
The Bruins next take on UC Riverside Thursday, at home.