While the big focus of the start of basketball season is on the Bruins men’s basketball team, the UCLA women’s basketball also gets things started tonight as well. So, let’s take a look at this year’s team.
The Bruins have lost three key players whose offensive and defensive production will need to be replaced.
First and foremost on that list is Jordin Canada. Canada finished her career at UCLA as the Bruins all-time assist leader with 831. She also ranks 2nd all-time in scoring with 2,153 points, field goal attempts with 1,850 and free throws made with 518. She was drafted in the first round of the WNBA by the Seattle Storm.
Monique Billings was drafted by the Atlanta Dream with the third pick of the second round of the WNBA Draft. She finished her UCLA career ranked 1st all-time in blocks with 228 and 2nd all-time in rebounding with 1,159) and free throws attempted with 677.
The third Bruin who graduated was guard Kelli Hayes. Hayes averaged 6.2 points and 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for UCLA last season.
In addition to those three, Ashley Hearn is no longer listed on the UCLA roster.
UCLA head coach Cori Close landed Natalie Chou, a transfer from Big 12 champion Baylor, but, according to the Waco Tribune, Chou will have to sit out this season, per NCAA transfer rules. Chou played two seasons as Baylor in 2016-17 and 2017-18 without redshirting. However, for some reason, she is listed on this year’s UCLA roster as a redshirt junior. So, while it doesn’t appear like Chou will be able to contribute this season due to NCAA transfer rules, her name does appear on the roster.
The team does add four freshman this year. The additions are Shayley Harris, Kiara Jefferson, Ahlana Smith and Eliana Sigal. The first three members of the freshman class all signed NLIs last Fall while Sigal looks to be a late addition and, probably, walk-on.
Harris joins the Bruins from Folsom HS where she played her senior year and she was Folsom’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. She was a nominee to be a McDonald’s All-American.
Jefferson also comes to the Bruins from northern California. She graduated from West Campus HS in Sacramento where she earned four varsity letters. She was the Golden Empire League Player of the Year her junior year.
Ahlana Smith grew up in Charlotte, NC where she graduated Mallard Creek HS and spent her first two years of high school at Zebulon B. Vance HS. She led Mallard Creek to a 29-1 record her junior year.
Eliana Sigal joins the Bruins from Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine. She was an All-CIF player her senior year and was named to the All-Express League First Team in both her senior and sophomore years while she was named to the All-Express League Second Team her junior year.
The Bruins return two starters from last year’s team in Kennedy Burke and Lajahna Drummer. Senior Japreece Dean will likely look to replace Canada as the Bruins’ starting point guard. True sophomores Michaela Onyenwere and Chantal Horvat also return and will likely fill a starting roles for UCLA as well.
After tonight’s opener against Loyola Marymount, UCLA will play its next three games at home against Rice, Georgia and Seton Hall. The team will then travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam over Thanksgiving weekend where they will face North Carolina, Kentucky and South Florida. The Bruins return home for December home games against Indiana, Fresno State and Oklahoma State before playing their last non-conference road game against Illinois-Chicago on December 19th. UCLA will then close out non-conference play against Cal Poly on December 28th before opening Pac-12 play against Southern Cal on December 30th.
This year’s team has lost a lot production due to the loss of Canada, Billings and Hayes. As a result, it’s natural to wonder whether or not this year’s team will be able to build on the program’s recent successes.
If this schedule were the men’s non-conference schedule, it would appear to be a pretty tough one with traditional men’s powers Seton Hall, North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana all on the schedule. But, since it isn’t, it doesn’t seem quite as challenging as years past when the Bruins faced the likes of UConn and Baylor.
Considering the talent the Bruins have lost, I can’t really blame Coach Close for opting for a a little bit of an easier schedule this year. Hopefully, they can continue the progress that the team has made over the past few years, but the media seems to think that the team will take a step back this year. The Pac-12 preseason media poll picked the Bruins to finish 6th in the conference this season, which would be a substantial drop-off from last season when UCLA finished tied for third in the regular season with Oregon State and lost to Oregon in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.