#25 UCLA Women's Basketball Preview

UCLA Bruins

Overall Rank: #25
Conference Rank: #4 Pac-12
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After a very quick rise to national prominence, Nikki Caldwell left UCLA last spring to go back to her SEC roots and take over for Van Chancellor at LSU. The Bruins turned to Cori Close, the top assistant and offensive coordinator at Florida State under Sue Semrau during the Lady Seminoles resurgence to the top of the ACC.  This will be the first head coaching assignment for Close, who was also an assistant at UCLA under Kathy Olivier in 1994-95. Close is viewed as one of the top offensive minds in women’s college basketball circles so look for a higher octane offensive approach from UCLA this season.

2010-11: 28-5, 16-2
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Cori Close (0-0 at UCLA, 0-0 overall)

Who’s Out:
Doreena Campbell, who was one of only four Bruin players ever to hit the 1,000 point, 400 rebound, 400 assist plateau in her career in Westwood. This two-time all- first team Pac-10 selection will be very difficult to replace right away. After losing Darxia Morris at the point guard position, finding a new floor general by the time the season gets underway will be one Coach Close’s top priorities.

Who’s In:
You would think that the departure of a coach like Nikki Caldwell at first would kill a recruiting class. While it went from a top five class in the nation to settling into a top a 20 class nationally, The Bruin program won’t be hurting talent wise anytime soon. To offset the loss of Justine Hartman to Cal and Sheila Boykin to LSU, the Bruins brought in much needed height down low in Kacy Swain, a 6-3 forward and the #19 ranked Madness recruit, along with very talented point guard help in Alexis Perry out of Cerritos, and a underrated combo guard in Mariah Faulk.

Who to Watch:
It all starts with Jasmine Dixon. She is going to have to anchor what is not the tallest front line in the Pac-12 this season. Dixon was a 4th team Madness All-American. She will be the leader of this squad and will be counted on to increase her scoring early on while other players step up their roles with increased scoring responsibility and minutes. Markel Walker, a junior who can play any position on the court, will be a very interesting cog in the Coach Close’s offensive puzzle. I would suspect the Bruins to try and push tempo a little bit more to play in the 70s and 80s more often as she inherits a great group of defenders.  Antonye Nyingifa will need to be huge down in the paint on the boards to take some of the load off of Dixon and to buy time for Kacy Swain to evolve as well.

Final Projection:
This will be an interesting season of transition in Westwood. The Bruins will play their home games in the John Wooden Center on campus while Pauley Pavilion is under renovation this season. The intimate set-up of the Wooden Center seating wise should increase the home-court advantage for UCLA as they will now have fans right on top of the action instead a ways away in the cavernous set-up of the old Pauley Pavilion.
The schedule is very difficult out of conference including a trip to Baton Rouge to face Coach Caldwell and LSU on December 13th, which will surely bring plenty of emotion to the table for both squads. Tennessee comes to the Wooden Center on December 17th. Conference wise, it’s the continual battle to end the epic stranglehold of Stanford at the top of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball landscape. The Bruins ran the table against everyone but Stanford so the mission is clearly to buy into the new coaching staff and keep building on the fantastic job done by Nikki Caldwell in making UCLA Women’s Basketball relevant on a national scale.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Rebekah Gardner, Senior, Guard, 7.9 PPG
Markel Walker, Junior, Wing, 8.5 PPG
Atonye Nyignifa,  Redshirt Junior, Forward, 8.8 PPG
Jasmine Dixon, Senior, Forward, 12.1 PPG
Kacy Swain, Freshman, DNP last season

Madness 2012 WNBA Draft Rankings:
#30 Jasmine Dixon

Madness 2011 Women's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#19 Kacy Swain
#34 Sheila Boykin