The UCLA women’s basketball team got on a plane Sunday evening in Colorado and headed home with a program-best record of 16-0.
After defeating Colorado 65-62, the Bruins had just learned they were the last remaining unbeaten team in the nation after then-third-ranked Oregon State lost to Arizona State in Tempe.
UCLA head coach Cori Close got her players together and congratulated them, while also reminding them they weren’t playing for any record or winning streak.
“I don’t want you to think that I don’t acknowledge that you’ve done something that no other UCLA women’s basketball team has ever done,” she said. “I want that to bring joy, but I also want it to bring an awareness of the process. I want it to heighten your commitment to growth, because that’s the only way you get to those places.”
Seventh-ranked UCLA (16-0, 5-0 Pac-12) continues to extend its program-record start and on Friday, when the Bruins play USC at the Galen Center, they will be battling for the program’s best start in conference play since the 2002-2003 season.
Close and her players understand that as long as they’re unbeaten opponents will be throwing their best at them – every opponent trying to take advantage of the large target on the Bruins’ backs. Close’s players choose to focus on this aspect, instead of allowing their unbeaten streak to put too much pressure on themselves.
“The reality is they’re getting to set a new standard for UCLA women’s basketball,” Close said. “But I’m such a huge proponent that performance equals potential minus interferences and our challenge is just not let that be an interference.”
The Bruins see the challenge as a way to grow and improve their skill level in the present, all while preparing the team for what they hope is a deep postseason run in March.
“It’s kinda what we all grew up dreaming of as kids, to play at the top level,” redshirt sophomore Lindsey Corsaro said. “You know every single game no matter who you’re playing is going to be a great fight, it’s just a really fun opportunity and it’s why we all came to college to play, to be in that environment of tough games and competitive games.”
UCLA defeated the Trojans 83-59 in their Pac-12 opener on Dec. 29 at Pauley Pavilion. Since then, USC has lost its four other conference games and enters Friday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup on a five-game losing streak.
THE WNBA’s NEW CBA
On Tuesday, the WNBA announced a new agreement with its players’ union that, presuming it is ratified by players and the league’s Board of Governors, would provide major improvements in pay and benefits to WNBA players. The new deal includes nearly doubling players’ salaries, improving travel accommodations and providing additional support for maternity leave and health conditions, while assuring league officials that their players will prioritize the WNBA over foreign leagues.
“It’s even bigger than women’s basketball,” Close said when asked about the new CBA on Wednesday. “It’s honoring the journey of women. It’s honoring how life-changing sports is and it’s also even acknowledging how far we still have to go.”
Close has coached a total of 16 collegiate players who have been selected in the WNBA draft in her 27 years of coaching. She is excited that collegiate players, like UCLA senior Japreece Dean who will likely enter the draft this spring, will get to experience a much-improved world of women’s basketball.
“We have to celebrate growth, celebrate progress to be able to facilitate opportunities that the people before never had,” she said. “To be able to look Japreece Dean in the eye and go, ‘Look what you could earn. Look what you can dream about now.’ I just think that’s a wonderful thing to be able to do as a coach.”
No. 7 UCLA (16-0, 5-0) at USC (8-8, 0-5)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Galen Center
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Networks, 1150 AM