Oct. 14, 2004
Coach Kathy Olivier saw her team take the next step and advance into the NCAA tournament last season, and she is anxious to get started again in the 2004-05 season. The Bruins welcome back 11 returning letterwinners, including three starters, and add two talented newcomers from a recruiting group ranked among the nation's best. Seven of the 11 returning letterwinners saw action in at least 18 games this past season, including five players with starting experience from a year ago.
"The excitement from our finish last season has not gone away," said Olivier. "We jelled as a team about midway through last season and came on strong during the final 10 games to secure a NCAA bid. It was fun to watch the team grow more comfortable with their roles last season and start to enjoy consistent success. Now we feel there is an excellent opportunity to build on it and have a really special season in 2004-05."
Coach Olivier's Bruins will look to move up from last year's third place Pac-10 finish. A trio of returning starters are back - first-team all-conference guard Nikki Blue, who averaged 15.2 points; Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Noelle Quinn, who scored 15.9 points a game; and honorable mention all-conference performer Lisa Willis, who poured in 14.3 points per contest.
In 2004, the Bruins bounced back from a 4-6 Pac-10 start to win seven of the last eight conference matchups and finish in a tie for third place with ASU and USC. A win over Arizona State in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament helped to secure a NCAA bid for the Bruins, who totaled 17 wins on the season. The third place conference finish was UCLA's highest since winning the Pac-10 title in 1998-99. The Bruins dropped a hard-fought NCAA opening round contest at Minnesota, 92-81, in a game that was tied with 1:30 to play.
The Bruins are set to return one of the finest backcourts in the nation with its "Big Three" of Blue, Quinn and Willis. The threesome combined to average 45.4 points, 18.7 rebounds, 8.4 steals and 10.2 assists a game in 2003-04. Each player ranked amongst the Top 10 in the league in scoring (Quinn - 6th, Blue - 7th, Willis - 10th), the Top 5 in the league in steals (Willis - 1st, Blue - 2nd, Quinn - 4th) and the Top 15 in the conference in rebounding (Quinn - 6th, Blue - 12th, Willis - 15th).
Defensively, the team ranked tied for seventh nationally in steals per game (12.3). UCLA allowed 63.8 points per game in `03-04 to rank as the third-lowest mark in school history and the lowest since the 1976-77 season (59.7). The Bruins gave up more than 66 points in regulation only seven times during the regular season. The opponent shooting percentage of .410 ranked as the fifth-lowest in school history. UCLA led the Pac-10 in steals and turnover margin.
Offensively, the Bruins netted a school-record total of 150 three-point shots. The team shot 81% from the free throw line over the last 11 games and finished with a .707 percentage, which ranked as the fifth-best season mark in school history.
Blue and Quinn each earned first-team all-conference honors last season. Quinn became just the third Bruin freshman to be named first-team all-conference, joining Maylana Martin in 1996-97 and Blue in 2002-03. Quinn was also honored as the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, becoming the fourth Bruin to earn the honor. Willis, the only player to start all 30 games last season, earned honorable mention all-conference honors in her first season as a starter.
Junior point guard Blue scored a school NCAA record 33 points in the loss at Minnesota. Her season assist total (148) ranked seventh on the school list. Blue's total of 89 steals was also the seventh-best in school history and ranked 28th in the nation. She had 12 games where she scored at least 14 points and had five assists. Over the last 10 contests of the season, she averaged 6.4 assists per game. "Nikki has proven that she can help lead a team to victory in a number of ways over the last two seasons," says Olivier. "She has become a complete and consistent performer."
Wing guard Willis, a junior, averaged 16.1 points per game over the final 11 contests of the season. She led the Pac-10 and ranked 11th in the nation in steals (3.3). Willis set a school record with 70 made three-point shots and moved into second place on the school career list with 116 total treys. Her season total of 100 steals, a sophomore class record, was the third-most ever by a Pac-10 conference player. She had 13 games when she totaled at least 15 points and had five rebounds. "Lisa Willis stepped it up in a big way, both offensively and defensively," said Olivier. "She seamlessly stepped in to a starting role and responded with big numbers."
Quinn averaged 20.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game over the final 11 contests of the season while shooting 87% from the free throw line. In a game at Cal on Feb. 19, she recorded the fourth triple-double in UCLA history with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Her 21-point effort that evening gave her six straight games with 20 or more points, a UCLA freshman record total. During the season, she connected on 30 straight free throws to fall just shy of the UCLA and Pac-10 record marks. She scored in double figures in the last 21 straight games of the season. "Noelle became one of the steadiest, most spectacular freshmen in Bruin history and provided leadership beyond her years," said Olivier.
Lone senior Sissy Pickett, a 6-7 post player, saw action in 11 games and was an important plus on the inside in several contests. Junior forward Julia Pitts and junior guard Ortal Oren also return. Pitts saw action in 18 games, starting nine, before a knee injury that required surgery ended her season. She averaged 3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds and is expected to be ready for the start of practice in October. Oren was on the floor in 28 games and averaged 3.2 points. She has been asked to play more of a role each year with the team and this season will be no exception. Junior forward/center Emma Tautolo is also back. She saw action in 24 contests, provided a key inside presence in several, and scored 1.9 points per game. It is that physical aspect of her game that will enable her to gain more playing time.
Also returning to the sophomore class are forward Amanda Livingston, forward/center Consuelo Lezcano and guard Shaina Zaidi. Livingston gained valuable experience as the first inside player off the bench in most games last season. She played in all 30 games and averaged 4.0 points and 2.2 rebounds. Lezcano saw action in eight games and showed outstanding promise in her limited action. She more than held her own in several of her appearances and is a player to watch as she gains more experience and develops more confidence.
In addition, 6-1 redshirt junior Brittany Ringel returns to the team. A starter on the women's volleyball team at outside hitter, Ringel played basketball in her true freshman season of 2001 and saw limited action. She sat out the 2002 campaign and returned last season to see action in two contests.
Freshman Lindsey Pluimer headlines the incoming freshman class. Pluimer, a 6-3 forward from San Clemente, CA High School, averaged 24.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists and was named a McDonald's and Parade All-American. She was selected CIF-SS Division I-A Player of the Year the past three seasons.
Freshman guard Lauren Pedersen averaged 14.7 points as a prep senior at Brea Olinda High School in Orange County. She led her team to the CIF Southern Section II-A championship and the Division II Southern California Regional semifinals. She was selected the CIF-SS II-A Player of the Year the past three seasons.
"I can't wait for the start of practice," says Olivier, who is set to begin her 12th season as head coach at UCLA and 19th season overall on the Bruin bench. "This year we will have as much athletic talent, with as high an experience level, as we have ever had in my time at UCLA. We will miss the leadership and production of Jamila Veasley, Whitney Jones and Gennifer Arranaga, but we add a couple of outstanding recruits who will fit in nicely with our veterans."
"I am counting on the junior class, as a whole, to provide points, defense and leadership once again this season. They gained a lot from their successes of last year."
"Once again we are playing a high-quality pre-season schedule, which includes games with Texas, Purdue, Ohio State and Clemson. We also have a key season-opening tournament at Miami, FL, which includes Texas Christian. There is no better way to help prepare for the challenge of competing in the Pac-10."
Sissy Pickett (6-7, senior) is the tallest player in UCLA women's basketball history. She ranks among the all-time high school scoring leaders with a total of over 4,000 career points. She has worked hard to make the adjustments to the next level and has proven to be a solid performer in certain situations.
"Sissy has worked hard to put herself in position to have a role on this team," said Olivier. "She has become someone we can rely on for an outstanding effort in the course of a game and at practices. We can count on Sissy to do whatever it takes to make the team better."
Julia Pitts (6-2, junior) was a three-sport standout (basketball, volleyball and track) at North Torrance, CA High School. She was selected during the summer following her senior season as the Cal-Hi Sports State Female Athlete of the Year. However, injuries cut short each of her first two basketball seasons at UCLA. As a freshman, she suffered two torn knee ligaments in a December game against Baylor and was lost for the balance of 2002-03. At the time of her injury, she led the Pac-10 conference in shooting percentage with a .674 mark and had been a starter in the first eight games of the campaign. She was averaging 10.0 points and 5.9 rebounds. Last season, she started nine times and saw action in 18 contests before undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus in her left knee on Feb. 12, 2004.
"Julia's first two seasons with us have ended early due to injury," Olivier said. "We hope that this is the year she returns to full health and shows everyone what she is capable of doing. She runs the court so well that few players can keep up with her. Julia also brings a number of intangibles to a team because of her spirited play."
Emma Tautolo (6-2, junior) was an all-league performer in both basketball and volleyball at Moreno Valley, CA High School. She has seen action in 50 games off the bench the past two seasons as a post player. She averaged 2.3 points and 1.2 rebounds in her initial season and 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds last season.
"Emma has had several solid games in which she showed excellent promise," Olivier said. "We will look for her to be more consistent this season and work to become more physical. She is a capable inside player who can be a real plus for us."
Noelle Quinn (6-0, sophomore) put together one of the best first years in UCLA history last season. She was a starter in 26 of the 27 games in which she played and was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Quinn ranked among the all-time school top 10 for freshmen in points (sixth-430), rebounds (sixth-207), assists (ninth-85) and steals (10th-60). In the Pac-10 conference, she ranked in the top 10 in seven categories -- sixth in scoring, fifth in rebounding, ninth in assists, fourth in steals, seventh in assist/turnover ratio, fourth in defensive rebounds and ninth in offensive rebounds.
Quinn joined Ann Meyers and Erica Gomez and became only the third player in UCLA history to record a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a game at Cal. She set a school freshman record with six straight 20-point scoring games. She poured in a career high 31 points, the fourth-most ever by a UCLA freshman, in a win over Arizona. This summer, she was named to the pre-season watch lists for both the Wooden Award and the Wade Trophy.
As a prep performer, she helped her team win four league titles, three CIF Division III championships, four California Regional Division III crowns and four CIF state championships. She was also selected a McDonald's and Parade All-American.
"Noelle can handle the ball, run the court, key the defense, battle inside and be a threat from the perimeter," Olivier said. "Once she achieved a level of comfort on the court last season, she really took off, and so did the team. She can do it all and can make everyone around her a better player as well. She also displayed a leadership aspect which is unusual for a young player."
Amanda Livingston (6-1, sophomore) saw action in all 30 games last season as a freshman, with one start. She was often the first inside player off the bench. Livingston averaged 4.0 points and 2.2 rebounds in her initial campaign and will be asked to do more this season.
Livingston was a two-time MVP of the Freeway League who averaged 17.5 points and 8.3 rebounds as a prep senior at Fullerton's Troy High School. She helped her team to a pair of CIF Southern Section Division II-AA titles in three seasons.
"Amanda is a very competitive player who took some time to learn what she could do at this level," Olivier said. "We expect her to use this season as a starting point for some big things. She makes things happen on the court and in the paint. She will outwork you on the inside and still get up and down the court. She plays bigger than her height in the post."
Consuelo Lezcano (6-4, sophomore) was a two-sport (basketball and volleyball) star at Marathon, FL High School. She averaged 21.2 points, 15.5 rebounds and nine blocks as a prep senior.
Lezcano was brought along slowly as she adjusted to a different level of play in her first college season. She has worked hard this off-season to improve her game.
"Consuelo adds size and speed to our interior game," Olivier said. "She did not play much last season but more than held her own when she did see the court. The coaching staff saw plenty to be excited about. As she gains experience, she could become a big plus for us."
Lindsey Pluimer (6-3, freshman) was a McDonald's All-American selection last season at San Clemente HS after averaging 24.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.8 blocks, 2.7 steals and 2.8 assists. She set nine school records in her prep career and led her team to four consecutive CIF-Southern Section I-A titles.
"Lindsey has always played at the highest levels and has been well coached all along the way," Olivier said. "She knows the game well and is ready to step in and contribute right away at a power forward slot. Lindsey can shoot the three and score down low on the block as well. She has long arms and uses them to her advantage, especially on defense."
Nikki Blue (5-8, junior) was regarded by several publications as the No. 1 combo guard in the country coming out of high school. She earned her second-straight first-team All-Pac-10 conference honors last season after averaging 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest. During the summer, she was named to the pre-season watch lists for both the Wooden Award and the Wade Trophy.
Blue is a very capable playmaker who has dished out 251 assists in her two years at UCLA. She started 29 games last season and ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring, 12th in rebounding, third in assists, second in steals and sixth in assist/turnover ratio. Her 148 assists tied for the seventh-most in UCLA history. Blue's 33-point scoring day against Minnesota set a school mark for a NCAA tournament contest. Her 89 steals last season were the seventh-highest total in school history.
"Nikki evolved into a leader with the ball last season," Olivier said. "She can have an impact on a game in so many ways; it is hard to stop her. The balance she has in her game has improved each season and helps to make both her and the team that much better. She will strive to be even more consistent this season, after another year of experience, and take the team up to another level."
Lisa Willis (5-11, junior) was the only Bruin to start all 30 games last season. She averaged 14.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in her first season as a starter. Willis set a school record with 70 made three-point shots, and her total of 100 steals was the third-most ever by a Bruin. She ranked first in the Pac-10 in steals and made three-point shots, 10th in scoring, 15th in rebounding, seventh in three-point shooting percentage and seventh in defensive rebounding.
Willis had a tremendous game last year at Cal with a career-best 31 points, connecting on six three-point shots. She added seven rebounds, four assists and eight steals (tied for eighth-best total in school history). The junior had at least three steals in 20 games last season.
"Lisa took a big step up for us last season and had some amazing games," Olivier said. "I think she can continue to grow this season and become more consistent. She is a scoring threat anywhere on the court and has proven to be a major plus at the defensive end. She has worked hard to improve her game and it has paid off."
Ortal Oren (5-9, junior) appeared in 28 games off the bench last season. She averaged 3.2 points and displayed a soft shooting touch. In 11 games, she played at least 10 minutes.
"Ortal has given us some solid production in her first two seasons," said Olivier. "She has improved her game to the point where she is on the verge of gaining some major minutes. She must now take that next step. She is a winner and high-achiever both on the court and in the classroom. She has put a lot of work into becoming a more complete player at both ends of the court."
Shaina Zaidi (5-8, sophomore) saw action in nine games last season. She showed steady improvement over the course of the season in practices and will look to use that experience to her advantage when competing for playing time this season. She averaged 22 points and six assists for Marlborough High School in Los Angeles and helped her high school team to three straight Sunshine League titles.
"Shaina gives us a solid ball handler on the perimeter," Olivier said. "She has been in our camps for a number of years and is very familiar with our system. She is a good decision-maker with the ball and made steady progress during her freshman season."
Lauren Pedersen (5-10, freshman) averaged 14.7 points per game at Brea Olinda High School in Brea, CA. She helped her team to the CIF Southern Section II-A championship last season. The last three seasons she was named CIF-SS II-A Player of the Year.
"Lauren has a great knowledge and sense of the game and uses it to excel," Olivier said. "She anticipates well and is a serious scoring threat from the perimeter. She will play the one or two guard position for us."