Thursday, December 9, 2021

UCLA Women’s Basketball Club Win Title With Renewed Squad

Imar’I Thomas had a career in college in Cincinnati that could only be dreamed of. The striker became the AAC Player of the Year, was selected to the first team three times at all conferences and became the league’s best freshman. She was one of only two athletes to score 50 points in school. The other is Oscar Robertson.

So if she has one year left, why did Thomas leave the program that helped her become one of the top scorers in the country?

To find a place that could better prepare her for professional growth, according to the announcement of the transfer of UCLA alumni to Los Angeles. And she wanted to compete for the championship, because despite her many achievements in Cincinnati, there was no place in the NCAA tournament among them.

UCLA, which has competed in the last five NCAA events and made the regional semi-finals four times, is the perfect venue for Thomas, who is one of eight new players to the 20th Bruins tournament this year. Despite the completely redesigned roster, the reputation of the program and expectations of success in tournaments remain the same.

Coach Corey Close, who started her 11th year at UCLA, added four Division I transfers in the offseason. But don’t get used to it. Close does not approve of the transfer portal as a long-term way to create a program. The influx this year came in an abnormal year.

Employment restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which have hampered personal recruitment for over a year, have been particularly harsh on UCLA coaches. About 80% of UCLA’s recruitment targets were in the Eastern Time Zone, and convincing a high school prospect to move across the country without a visit proved difficult. Dominke Onu, a Florida-based security guard, is UCLA’s only recruit in 2021. She signed last November and signed up early to play last season in moderation because COVID-19 canceled her high school graduation season.

“As any leader, I have to turn around and move forward, okay, how can we continue to progress in the championship?” Close said. “And it was very clear that the transfer portal is the best way to do it.”

The Bruins added former five-star prospect Angela Dugalic, a Serbian Olympian who competed in all 24 games for Oregon as a rookie, and took away Indiana defender Jalynne Penn, a four-year-old athlete who won the match against UCLA. as a sophomore at Pauly’s Pavilion. Dugalich is expected to miss several weeks due to a bruised knee.

Thomas is the bucket miner. The Auckland native averaged 23.7 points per game last year, ranking ninth among Division I players. Her 51-point result against East Carolina was the most points of any Division I basketball player – male or female – in a single game last season.

Imar’I Thomas (right) dribbles the ball during a UCLA basketball training session.

(Courtesy of Ryan Andersen / UCLA Athletics

)

The addition of the top scorer was a necessity for the Bruins, who lost to Mikaela Onienvere. The striker has led the Bruins in scoring for the past three seasons and is the fourth best scoring team at UCLA. While Onien thrived on her athletic performance, Thomas, 5’11 ”, made her strong in office.

“We just know that if Marie is open, we better not miss her,” guard Natalie Chow said, patting Thomas on the shoulder. “If we get into it, it will be an automatic bucket.”

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Gina Conti, a former Wake Forest guard, is a quarterback tasked with passing the ball to UCLA’s powerful weapon. The All-ACC Second Team Laureate led Wake Forest to second place in the NCAA tournament in high school history last year, averaging 13.8 points and 4.6 assists per game. She ranks second on the school’s assists list.

Getting a true point guard to attack was Close’s top priority when exploring the transfer portal. The Bruins needed someone to take the strain off Charisma Osborne. The Windward School junior seems more suited to the role of an attacking guard, but he also served as a point guard last year. She averaged points in her career (17) and assisted (3.8) in her sophomore year.

Close said Osborne, in need of a backcourt assistant, had the same clout in Conti’s recruiting as any member of the coaching staff. The coach boasts that they are one of the best defensive duos in the country, although Conti will miss the start of the season after having a foot surgery that will keep her out for weeks.

“It’s not that we haven’t had options in the past, but we have so many talent on this team,” Osborne said. “There are so many different people we can look at, watch to score, watch to play defensively.”

Onienwehr and Osborne, two of UCLA’s top scorers, scored 50.5% of UCLA’s Bruins short-handed points last year when they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. For the first time since 2015, the University of California Los Angeles failed to qualify for Sweet 16.

Corey Close of the University of California Los Angeles wears a mask during basketball training.

UCLA basketball coach Corey Close (right) leads his team during training.

(Courtesy of Ryan Andersen / UCLA Athletics.)

The Bruins have played most of the year with seven or eight players due to injuries and the pandemic. Even with pre-season injuries this year, including sophomore Emily Bessouard’s knee injury at the end of the season, they have a plethora of options. Security guards Kayla Owens and Kiara Jefferson are back after a year of abandoning COVID-19. After missing out on a rookie season due to pandemic immigration rules, Australian forward Izzy Ansti gives the Bruins a physical defender.

Close named it her most talented cast at UCLA. The Bruins are hoping this could be one of their most successful years as the program approaches elite teams but has yet to solidify itself as a national title contender.

“My immediate challenge is to get closer to our potential,” Close said. “We say that champions here are created from within, and I think I want our thinking to be a little more like a championship. I want our habits to be a little more like championship habits. I want our elite team to be a little more like a championship. And then I think these breakthroughs will happen. “

UCLA Women’s Basketball Schedule 2021-22

10th of November: against Pepperdine; 18: versus Cal State Northridge; 21: against Virginia; 26: v. Kent (Estero, Florida); 27: against South Dakota or UMass (Estero, FL); 28: Gulf Coast Exhibition (Estero, Florida)

5th of December: against the State of San Jose; 11: against UConn (Newark, NJ); 16: against Texas South; 19: v. Ohio State; 21: v Cal State Bakersfield; 28: against USC; 31: vs. Arizona State

January 2: against Arizona; 7: in Utah; 9: in Colorado; 14: against Washington; 16: v. Washington State; 22: at USC; 28: in Oregon; 30: in Oregon

February 3rd: against Stanford; 6: against California; 11: in Washington state; 13: in Washington; 18: against Colorado; 20: against Utah; 24: in Arizona; 26: in the state of Arizona

March 2-6: Pac-12 tournament

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