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UCLA Has Joined The Celebration


A humorous factor occurred on the first large school basketball match of the yr, the exquisitely named “Dangerous Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis.” Really, a couple of humorous issues occurred. The “good” groups all fell aside; Texas entered the match ranked the third-best workforce within the nation, and completed the weekend the seventh-best workforce on the match. Louisville, a pretty fearsome Final Four contender last year, pulled down roughly one offensive rebound in three days and misplaced to South Dakota State. Whereas all this nonsense went on, one plucky workforce determined to fill the ability vacuum and win the entire thing. There aren’t many severe classes to be realized from a mid-November match within the Bahamas, however there’s at the least one: The UCLA Bruins will likely be a cool and enjoyable and good workforce to observe. Positively sooner or later, and doubtless even this yr, too.

The brilliant future begins with level guard Kiki Rice, a freshman who’s displayed an uncommonly mature recreation simply three actual weeks into her school profession. A taller guard at 5-foot-11, Rice’s finest expertise is perhaps her velocity and driving skill; she’s in a position to get to spots with ease, and he or she’s paired this with a wonderful mid-range shot that makes her a menace to attain from anyplace. Sometimes, you’re meant to observe freshman level guards with low expectations. The final rule with them is to key in on the flashes of brilliance and ignore the whole lot else. Belief that the sloppiness and carelessness and normal frenzy will fall away with time. However Rice calls for little endurance. She doesn’t ask you to think about a lot in any respect. Watching her, you get the odd sense that the excellence is fairly near realized, that there isn’t a ton of ironing out left to be performed.

Rice credit her footwork and instincts to her time enjoying highschool soccer. (My colleague Dave McKenna could be upset if I didn’t point out that Rice is a product of the D.C. prep circuit. Her aunt Susan is, certainly, that Susan Rice.) In opposition to Marquette, within the match’s championship recreation yesterday, she added 18 factors, seven rebounds, two steals and a block. I used to be notably taken with this block from UCLA’s opening-round recreation towards South Dakota State:

When Rice dedicated to UCLA final November, she and fellow five-star freshman Gabriela Jaquez made UCLA’s one of the best incoming class within the nation. Rice selected UCLA, she stated, as a result of she relished the “likelihood to carry a program on the cusp to its first Remaining 4.” Put one other approach, she selected UCLA for a similar purpose it appeared peculiar that she had chosen UCLA. Beneath head coach Cori Shut, this system has produced some effective WNBA expertise in the previous few years—the Sparks’ Jordin Canada and 2020 Rookie of the 12 months Michaela Onyenwere of the Liberty. However inside the Pac-12, UCLA has been principally overshadowed by different packages. Oregon, Arizona, and Stanford have all made deep NCAA match runs in the previous few years, and it was simply two years in the past that the NCAA championship recreation featured two Pac-12 groups in Arizona and eventual winner Stanford. (Final spring, having handled accidents for a lot of the season, the Bruins missed the NCAA match altogether.)

So UCLA’s efficiency this weekend, which introduced their report to 6-0 and earned them a No. 20 spot in the latest AP poll, would possibly sign that there’s a brand new contender on the Pac-12 scene. The freshmen are shortly acclimating, and the veterans have seemed sharp too. UCLA managed an upset of Tennessee on Sunday due to the scoring of Charisma Osborne, a WNBA-caliber distributor already, and somebody clearly making the most of the higher offensive expertise round her.

There’s an honest case to be made that the Pac-12 is the deepest convention in ladies’s school basketball now, with few indicators that its greatness will abate. It’s a full-on battle out west. Final week, 2023’s No. 1 recruit JuJu Watkins introduced her dedication to USC, passing over different finalists Stanford and South Carolina. ESPN ranked Arizona’s incoming recruiting class eighth within the nation this yr … and this made them solely the sixth-best recruiting class within the convention. Expertise! A lot expertise over there! Now if solely there have been some option to watch the Pac-12 Community…

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