Young UCLA women’s basketball team has championship-level goals

UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close wants her team to be championship-level, as she calls it, in every aspect. Championship-level habits, work ethic, teammates and so on.

With this year’s freshman class, which is one of the best in the nation, Close could have all of those things, and possibly even a national championship farther down the road.

“I’m looking for courageous, uncommon women willing to make courageous, uncommon choices and yielding an uncommon result,” Close said, “which for us would be the first national championship since 1978. That’s what we’re growing to.”

Kiki Rice, the No. 2-ranked recruit in her class, headlines this season’s freshman group. Camarillo product Gabriela Jaquez – the younger sister of Jaime Jaquez Jr., who plays on the men’s team – Centennial alumna Londynn Jones and and Christeen Iwuala are also top-50 recruits joining the group.

Rice and Jones were teammates on the gold medal-winning 2022 USA basketball women’s U18 national team and are ready to start their next chapter with the Bruins, who were picked fourth in the Pac-12 preseason coaches and media polls.

“We have the title of the number one recruiting class in the country,” Rice said, “but I think now that we’re here, we’re in college, that doesn’t really mean anything.”

The first-year college players have guidance from senior guard Charisma Osborne, a Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference player who led UCLA in scoring last season with 16.4 points per game.

Osborne is one of four returning guards this season, alongside redshirt sophomore Dominique Onu, graduate student Gina Conti and senior Camryn Brown.

The Bruins’ returning forwards are senior Brynn Masikewich and redshirt sophomores Emily Bessoir, Angela Dugalić and Izzy Anstey.

While they have four redshirt sophomores and five freshmen, the Bruins are at least starting with a healthy roster. Bessoir missed last season due to a torn ACL and Brown missed the first half of the season also due to a torn ACL.

“We can play five-on-five in practice, and I have not been able to do that since my freshman year,” Osborne said. “It’s pretty cool to just have everyone back and it’s just like helps our team energy and the flow that we have on the court.”

With a healthy team around her, Osborne has the opportunity to fulfill her potential at the college level and improve her chances of not just playing professionally, but possibly get a shot in the WNBA.

“She needs to be, ‘You want me to guard a post player, I’ll shut them down. You need me to guard the point guard and pick them up full court, I’ll shut them down,’” Close said. “Charisma is capable of that.”

After Osborne, UCLA lost its next three top scorers in graduate students IImar’I Thomas (15.7 ppg), Jaelynn Penn (10.5), who is back as a graduate assistant, and Natalie Chou (9.5). That leaves a lot of minutes and buckets for other Bruins.

Dugalić will likely contribute after averaging 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds last season, and there’s plenty of room for the prized freshmen to step up.

Rice and Jaquez, both 5-foot-11, can chip in as well as Jones, who is 5-foot-4 and has an aggressive style of play.

“She’s one of the few players on our team that on a consistent basis can creatively and unconventionally create her own shot,” Close said of Jones. “I think that allows us a different aspect to our game.”

The Bruins start preseason play against Cal Poly at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Pauley Pavilion. Pac-12 competition begins Dec. 30 at Oregon.

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