The 2017-2018 season is finally upon us and UCLA is ready to make some noise.
The Biggest Losses from Last Season
The team this season does not look so different from last season. The Bruins only lost four players in Nicole Kornet, Kari Korver, Dominique Williams and Pauline Hersler. Williams medically retired at the end of last season but is now serving as an undergraduate assistant coach for the 2017-2018 season. Hersler finished her undergraduate studies and transferred over to Florida as a graduate student with one year of eligibility remaining.
Korver is an obvious big loss. She was arguably the best three-point shooter on the team. In her last game as a Bruin, Korver tied the school record of 256 career three-pointers with former Bruin Lisa Willis (2002-2006). She had many opportunities to break the tie but unfortunately, could not convert for one last field goal.
Kornet was another player on whom UCLA could depend for three-pointers. If Korver was having a bad day, Kornet was there to pick up the slack. The senior transferred over from Oklahoma during the summer of 2015, but had to sit out the 2015-2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Even though Kornet only had one season with the Bruins, she made a strong impact on the team and UCLA will miss her shooting this season.
While UCLA did lose three important players, they do return four starters. They return point guard Jordin Canada, guard Kelli Hayes, guard Kennedy Burke and forward Monique Billings.
Canada has become one of the top point guards in the country and partnered with Monique Billings, the two are one of the deadliest duos in the nation. They both like to go straight to the board and that’s how Canada is able to draw fouls. Even when covered with players, Canada is able to make baskets.
In the 34 games she played last season, she started in 32, Canada scored double-figures in every game she started in. When it comes to assists, the point guard recorded at least two assists in every game. In total, she registered double-digit assists in seven games with three of those coming in all the of the NCAA Tournament games.
Billings also played in all 34 games and started in 32. In those 32 games, she recorded double figures. When it came to rebounds, Billings was a specialist. She recorded at least two rebounds in 34 games and registered double-digit rebounds in 19 games. On top of rebounds, she recorded at least one block in 31 games and one steal in 24 games. Billings can play defense as well as offense.
Scouting the Freshmen
In total, UCLA welcomes four freshmen to the team. Chantel Horvat, Kayla Owens, Michaela Onyenwere, and Lauryn Miller.
Horvat hails from Australia and has experience playing with the Australian national team. She was chosen to represent Australia in the FIBA U18 Oceania World Qualifiers. Horvat was the leading scorer in the championships with 18.6 points per game, her field goal shooting was at 60.3% and her free throw percentage at 78.9%.
Owens is a Houston native where she was on the varsity basketball team all four years in high school. In her senior year, Owens would average 11.2 points with 6.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and steals, and 1.3 blocks as a guard.
Onyenwere is from Colorado where she was also a varsity player all four years in high school. In her senior year, Onyenwere helped her team reach the state finals where the Wolves eventually won the state title. That year, she averaged 20.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.4 steals, 2.5 assists and 1 block per game. Later that same year, she was also named the Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year for a third straight year.
Miller comes to Westwood all the way from Missouri where she was also a four-year varsity player. In her senior year, she helped lead her team to a state title for the first time in the school’s history. The year prior, her junior year, the team came in second place. In her final year, Miller averaged 18.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
The Team as a Whole
After this season, the team is going to take a hit with the loss of Canada, Hayes, and Billings. Those three are going to be big factors in their Pac-12 Championships and NCAA title run.
For the second year in a row, UCLA was picked to win the Pac-12 Championships. Last season, they made it all the way to the semifinals before being knocked out by Oregon State. The Bruins were also ranked 7th in the USA Today Coaches Poll which is the highest since 6th place in 1999. Last season they were ranked 9th. When it came to the AP Preseason poll, UCLA ranked in 8th place.
The biggest key for UCLA is going to be consistency. While the Bruins made it to the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row, they need to go deeper this year. Head coach Cori Close does not want to gain the same reputation as men’s basketball coach Steve Alford. While the Bruins have proven they’re a competitive team, they have yet to prove they are a high caliber team. They have games where their offense and defense are playing the best games of their lives. Then the next game it’s like they’ve never played a game before. That has got to stop now if UCLA plans on winning a Pac-12 Championship and an NCAA title.