Oct. 24, 2005
With 11 returning letterwinners, including all five starters, and one returning redshirt, the UCLA women's basketball team has experience on its side for 2005-06. Nine of the 11 returning letterwinners saw action in at least 16 games in the 2004-05 season, including seven players who have starting experience from a year ago. The Bruins' most experienced players happen to form one of the finest backcourts in the nation - UCLA's "Triple Threat" of Nikki Blue, Noelle Quinn and Lisa Willis.
The threesome combined to average 50.2 points, 19.0 rebounds, 10.5 steals and 11.9 assists a game in 2004-05. Blue and Willis ranked fourth and fifth in the Pac-10 in scoring last season, and Quinn was on track to join them before being sidelined by a knee injury. Willis and Blue ranked one-two in the conference in steals and sixth and 11th, respectively, in the nation. In addition, Willis ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 and tied for 25th in the nation in three-point field goals made. Blue was second in the conference and 12th in the nation in assists.
Forwards Amanda Livingston and Lindsey Pluimer are the fourth and fifth returning starters. Livingston, a junior, ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in offensive rebounds (2.39) and ninth in field goal percentage (.461). Her 20 blocked shots were the eighth-most ever by a Bruin sophomore. She scored a career-best 23 points in a Bruin win at California. Pluimer earned first-team All-Pac-10 All-Freshman team honors after averaging 10.1 points and 6.4 rebounds. She ranked sixth in the conference in rebounding and 18th in scoring. Her 180 rebounds placed her ninth on the all-time school freshman list. She totaled 17 blocked shots, which ranked ninth on the all-time freshman list.
"I was proud of the way our starters stepped up their level of play in the absence of Noelle down the stretch," said UCLA head coach Kathy Olivier. "We just could not get that one big win to get us over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament. The return of Noelle and Julia (Pitts) and the addition of our three new freshmen will provide answers to a lot of the questions we had on last year's team. We have seen what this group is capable of when healthy, and it is exciting to know that this can be a special, special season."
In addition, the Bruins return senior guard Ortal Oren, who averaged 3.6 points in 28 games and had two starts. Sophomore guard Lauren Pedersen started 11 games, averaging 3.3 points per contest. Also back are senior forwards Emma Tautolo, who saw action in 27 games last season, and Brittany Ringel, who is with the team full-time now and played in three games last season. Junior Julia Pitts, a 6-2 forward, returns after sitting out the 2004-05 season following knee surgery.
Junior center Consuelo Lezcano, junior guard Shaina Zaidi and sophomore guard Lauren Pedersen return to the fold as well. Lezcano appeared in 26 games and showed outstanding promise while setting career-bests across the board. Zaidi was in 13 games and poured in a career-best 10 points at USC. Pedersen saw action in all 28 contests and started 11 times. She was third on the team with 20 made three-point shots.
UCLA also adds to the mix three talented newcomers from a highly-regarded recruiting class - Parade and WBCA All-American guard Ashlee Trebilcock, 6-4 post Chinyere Ibekwe and defensive wiz Tierra Henderson.
"I can't wait for the start of practice," said Olivier, who is set to begin her 13th season as head coach at UCLA and 20th 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. The kids have really worked hard this off-season to be ready."
"Our returning players know they have to be primed to perform each and every time out if we are to have a special season," she continued. "I liked the attitude we had on our trip to Australia. It was nice to see the girls really come together as a group, both on and off the court. We add some outstanding recruits who will help complete the puzzle nicely, giving us a little extra on the inside and the outside."
Nikki Blue (5-8, senior) earned her third-straight first-team All-Pac-10 conference honors last season after averaging a career-best 17.0 points. She became just the second Bruin (joining Ann Meyers) in school history to record over 1,300 points and 400 assists for a career. Blue averaged 23.3 points and 7.1 assists over the last 12 games of the season and led all Pac-10 players with an average of 18.8 points in conference games. Not just a scorer, Blue ranked 12th in the nation in steals and tied for 12th in assists last season.
The senior point guard, who has been named to the pre-season Watch Lists for both the Wooden Award and the Wade Trophy, moved up to sixth on the all-time school assists list after averaging 6.12 per game in 2004-05. Her season assist total (162) ranked seventh on the school list. Blue's total of 91 steals was also the seventh-best (tied) in school history. She had 14 games where she scored at least 10 points and had five assists. She became the 20th Bruin 1,000-point scorer during the season.
"Nikki has proven that she can help lead a team to victory in a number of ways during her career at UCLA," says Olivier. "She is a complete and consistent athlete who can have a dynamic impact on a game. The balance in her game has improved each season and helps to make both her and the team that much better."
Lisa Willis (5-11, senior) has started 58-straight games for the Bruins and spent the summer of 2005 helping the USA Basketball team win gold at the World University Games. She ranked sixth in the nation in steals last season and tied for 25th in three-point shots made per game. She averaged career-best marks of 16.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, ranking her fifth-best in the Pac-10 in each category. She led the conference in steals and three-point shots made per game.
Willis tied her own school record with 70 made three-point shots, and her total of 102 steals was the most ever by a Bruin junior and third-most in school history. She had 26 double-figure scoring games and nine double-figure rebounding games last season. She became the 21st 1000-point scorer in UCLA history during the season and had 18 games when she totaled at least 14 points and five rebounds.
"Lisa Willis stepped it up in a big way across the board, offensively, defensively and on the boards," said Olivier. "I still think she can continue to grow her game this season after gaining some international experience over the summer competing against some of the best players in the world. She is a scoring threat from anywhere on the court and a force for defenses to contend with. In addition, her work on the boards and at the defensive end gave our team a big lift last season."
Noelle Quinn (6-0, junior) was headed for another outstanding season in 2005 only to see it end early due to injury. She was named Pac-10 Player of the Week three times prior to her injury, including the weeks in which she scored 23 points in a win over then No. 14-ranked Purdue and had 27 points and 11 rebounds in a victory over then No. 4-ranked Texas. Her season ended when she drove the lane for a shot against Arizona on Jan. 16 and felt a shooting pain in her knee. She underwent arthroscopic surgery for torn meniscus cartilage on Jan. 19 and sat out the remainder of the 2005 season. The Bruins, who had started the season with wins in 11 of their first 15 games, lost eight of the last 13 contests to end the year. At the time of her injury, Quinn was averaging 16.9 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per contest.
She returned to action during the Bruins' summer tour of Australia and averaged 20.5 points per game.
"Noelle and her teammates were on the way to a fantastic season when she went down with the injury," said Olivier. "She does so much to make everyone on the court around her better, it is easy to overlook how much she can impact a game with her skills. Noelle can do it all."
Ortal Oren (5-9, senior) made her first two career starts and appeared in all 28 games last season. She averaged 3.6 points and displayed a soft shooting touch.
"Ortal has given us some solid production at times," said Olivier. "She is a winner and high-achiever both on the court and in the classroom, and she has a maturity about her this year that will be beneficial to this team."
Shaina Zaidi (5-8, junior) saw action in 13 games last season. She showed steady improvement over the course of the year and came off the bench to score 10 points in a late-season contest at USC. She will look to use the experience she has gained to her advantage when competing for playing time this season.
"Shaina gives us a solid ball handler and shooter on the perimeter," Olivier said. "She is a good decision-maker with the ball and has made steady progress throughout her career."
Lauren Pedersen (5-10, sophomore) saw action in all 28 games and averaged 3.3 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. She started the last 11 games of the season. Pedersen showed good shooting range, hitting 20 three-point shots, third-best on the team.
"Lauren has a great knowledge and sense of the game," Olivier said. "She anticipates well and is a serious scoring threat from the perimeter. Her year of experience will pay big dividends for her."
Ashlee Trebilcock (5-9 freshman) headlines the incoming freshman class. Trebilcock averaged 22.1 points per game as a prep senior at Hart HS in Newhall, CA and earned All-America recognition from Parade Magazine. She was selected as one of 20 high school seniors to participate in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) High School All-America game at the April 2005 NCAA Women's Final Four. She was also invited to try out for the USA Basketball Junior National team in May 2005.
"Ashlee can handle the ball and play the point," said Olivier. "She also has the size and ability to play the two-guard. Ashlee is well-schooled in the fundamentals and should have a quick transition to playing at this level. She is an intense and fiery player who sees the floor well and is very strong for a point guard."
Guard/forward Tierra Henderson (5-10 freshman) averaged 16.6 points and 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 steals last season as a senior at Pasadena, CA Muir High School. She was named first-team All-CIF III-A and All-Pacific League. She ranked 13th in the Southern Section in steals.
"Tierra is a terrific athlete who is capable of helping our team in a number of ways, especially on defense," said Olivier. "She has an excellent work ethic and has a strong desire to compete in any situation."
Julia Pitts (6-2, redshirt 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. She redshirted during the 2004 season. 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. In 2003-04, 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. She returned to competitive action on the track team in the spring of 2005 and played with the basketball team on its summer 2005 tour of Australia.
"Julia's first two seasons ended early due to injury," Olivier said. "After taking a year to let her injuries heal, it was exciting to see her back on the court in Australia. 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, and she is so explosive to the ball. She will definitely help us on the boards. Julia also brings a number of intangibles to a team because of her spirited play."
Emma Tautolo (6-2, senior) was an all-league performer in both basketball and volleyball at Moreno Valley, CA High School. She has seen action in 77 games off the bench the past three seasons as a post player. She saw action in all but one game in the 2004 season and averaged 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds.
"Emma has the ability to help us inside," Olivier said. "We will look for her to be more consistent this season and to provide leadership for our young post players."
Brittany Ringel (6-1, redshirt senior) has completed her volleyball career at UCLA and will concentrate on basketball full-time this season. Her extra focus on hoops will certainly pay dividends as she looks to contend for additional playing time. Ringel is a capable outside shooter who could help the team out on the boards as well.
"We will now get a real chance to see what Brittany can do as a full-time basketball player," said coach Olivier. "She has shown the ability to shoot the three in practices and compete on the boards. Her maturity and intensity will be big positives for us."
Amanda Livingston (6-1, junior) was a starter in all 28 games last season. She ended the regular season ranked sixth in the Pac-10 in offensive rebounds (2.44) and eighth in field goal percentage (.470). Her total of 20 blocked shots was the eighth-most ever by a Bruin sophomore. She had a huge game at California, scoring a career-best 23 points after making 10 of 14 shots from the field.
"Amanda is a very competitive, extremely physical player who did well in her first year as a starter," Olivier said. "She has learned a lot in her first two seasons on the court. She makes things happen and does whatever she can to help the team. She will outwork you on the inside and still get up and down the court. She plays bigger than her height and is a great post defender."
Consuelo Lezcano (6-4, junior) was a two-sport (basketball and volleyball) star at Marathon, FL High School. She has been brought along slowly as she adjusted to a different level of play. Lezcano has worked hard to improve her game and is ready to be a steady contributor in the frontcourt. Lezcano saw action in 26 contests last season and averaged 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds with 10 blocked shots.
"Consuelo adds size and speed to our interior game," Olivier said. "She now has the experience to enable her to become a real plus in our frontcourt. The coaching staff has seen plenty to be excited about in her workouts. Last year was important for her in terms of development. This is the year for her to take a step up."
Lindsey Pluimer (6-4, sophomore) was a first-team All-Pac-10 Freshman team selection last season after averaging 10.1 points and 6.4 rebounds and starting all 28 games. She ranked sixth in the Pac-10 in rebounding and 18th in scoring. Her 17 blocked shots and 180 rebounds each ranked ninth on the all-time school freshman lists.
Pluimer was a McDonald's All-America selection 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 stepped right into the mix last year and had a fine season," Olivier said. "As well as she did last season, we know that with a year of experience under her belt, she is capable of even more. She knows the game well and can shoot the three. She is a player who makes great decisions and provides stability and consistency."
Chinyere Ibekwe (6-4 freshman) is a post player from Carson, CA High School, where she averaged 23.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game as a CIF All-City senior in 2004-05. She ranked fifth in the L.A. City in points and blocked shots.
"Rey Rey has plenty of tools to work with, which should allow her to become a low post factor for us in time," said Olivier. "She has speed, quickness and a long body. Her long reach will enable her to become a shot-blocker as she gains experience. Rey Rey is feisty and raw. She gives us an aggressive style that we need."
"Once again we are playing a high-quality pre-season schedule, which includes games with Baylor, Oklahoma, UC Santa Barbara and Clemson. We also have a key tournament at Loyola Marymount which includes Georgia and UNC-Charlotte," said Olivier. "There is no better way to help prepare for the challenge of competing in the Pac-10."