No.10 UCLA women’s basketball took the floor against Washington State on Sunday not knowing of the news that would immediately impact individuals worldwide.
Bruins’ head coach Cori Close learned roughly five minutes before a matinee tipoff that legendary Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, had tragically passed away, along with seven others in a helicopter accident earlier that morning near Calabasas.
“It’s just staggering to think about our loss in Kobe Bryant and his daughter and the other people who were on that helicopter,” Close said.
“There are no words that will make it any better,” Close added. “I am deeply saddened, and it affected these (players). My response as a leader is to make sure I cherish every day and relish every opportunity because the next one isn’t promised.”
Close decided not to inform her players until after the game, where she described the moment to be extremely tough.
“It’s obviously devastating,” junior Bruins forward Michaela Onyenwere said. “There’s not really much else to say.”
Onyenwere led the Bruins with 23 points, freshman guard Charisma Osborne had 16 and No. 10 UCLA forced 19 turnovers in a 66-50 victory over Washington State on a day that no one will forget in Westwood.
The Bruins (18-1, 7-1 Pac-12) held the Cougars (9-11, 2-6) to 35.5 percent shooting from the field, while UCLA shot just 37, missing all 15 attempts from behind the three-point line.
“Well, 0-for-15 wasn’t really what I was going for, but we have sort have been up and down,” Close said. “I think we were No. 1 in the conference in three-point shooting going into the USC game and we have hit a little bit of a skid that way. But I think that is why you don’t put your anchor there.”
Redshirt senior Borislava Hristova led Washington State with 14 points, being the only player to finish in double digits for the Cougars.
After ending the first quarter tied at 14-all, UCLA used a 11-2 run to take control of the game. The Bruins outscored the Cougars 18-6 in the period and ultimately led 32-20 at halftime.
UCLA went on lead by as many as 24 points in the third, 53-29, after Japreece Dean converted a jumper with 2:08 remaining in the quarter.
Washington State could come no closer in the fourth, as their deficit remained at double digits, overall resulting in a 66-50 win for the Bruins.
No. 10 UCLA next prepares for a tough road-trip where they will travel to Arizona to play the No. 18 Wildcats (16-3, 5-3) and No. 16 Arizona State Sun devils (15-5, 5-3) on Friday at 5:00 PM and Sunday at 11:00 AM.
The Bruins then return to Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 14 to host No. 4 Oregon and No.7 Oregon State on Feb.17.
“I think (coach Close) said it that this will force us to step up to have this in front of us,” Onyenwere said on the challenging road trip ahead. “I’m excited to compete with this team and go through this tough stretch. We know it will be a battle and that’s why we came to UCLA, to compete in this conference.”