While the UCLA women’s basketball team struggled with injuries, their underclassmen players have been stepping up to battle against a highly competitive Pac-12 conference.
“I just think we’re growing and the biggest thing for us is that we don’t lose sight of what got us on a better track and it’s playing really solid defense, it’s getting our rebounding numbers,” said head coach, Cori Close.
For the past two seasons, the Bruins have been competing with as little as seven players on their roster. Their injury issue recently flared up, causing them to forfeit their game against the No. 19 Oregon Ducks.
Two days later, they were healthy enough to compete against Oregon State. Despite losing to the Beavers 58-72, the Bruins beat them on the offensive glass 18-8 and four Bruins scored in the double digits.
“Everybody is so willing to step into these roles that we have on the team,” said freshman forward, Izzy Anstey. “Everybody is competitive, I think it’s a really great group of underclassmen.”
Anstey is currently playing 18.1 minutes per game and averaging 5.4 rebounds. She leads the Bruins in total blocks with 13. Anstey mentioned how she is grateful for the extra minutes.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to learn and the best learning comes from when you’re on the court with your teammates,” she said. “The opportunity to be playing as many minutes has accelerated the growth that I’ve seen.”
When junior guard, Charisma Osborne was sidelined for the Oregon State game, freshman guard, Dominique Onu took up her responsibilities, ultimately leading the Bruins with 13 points after 38 minutes of gameplay. She also started alongside Osborne in their 59-54 win over the California Golden Bears.
Onu noted how the Bruins had a strong sense of toughness during their games against the USC Trojans in late January. Keeping a short memory helped them stay in the game.
“I think we were able to refocus. We always talk about “next play speed,” Onu said. “What that means is basically getting to the next play and worrying about the next thing ahead of you.”
When the officials called fouls against the Bruins during those games, they would smile and clap.
“We’re not worried about calls; we’re not worried about things we can’t control,” Onu said. “Even when things don’t go our way, we’re still excited, we’re still gonna have that same energy.”
The Pac 12 houses three nationally-ranked programs. Having that high-level of competition can give the Bruins experience needed to compete in the postseason.
“We want to be able to play NCAA level tournament teams and believe we’re an NCAA-level tournament team,” Close said. “We just have to have the opportunity and the reps to be able to show that and prove that.”