July 30, 2003
Coach Kathy Olivier saw her Bruin team improve by nine games in the win column last season, and she is anxious to get started again in the 2003-04 season. The Bruins welcome back nine letterwinners and add four talented newcomers from a recruiting group ranked in several publications' top-10 class lists. Olivier's Bruins will look to improve on last year's fourth place Pac-10 finish and 18-11 record. Three returning starters are back, headlined by first-team all-conference guard Nikki Blue who averaged 16.6 points.
In 2003, the Bruins totaled 18 wins on the season and challenged for the Pac-10 lead for much of the campaign. The 18 victories were two more than the combined win total of the previous two seasons. The total of 12 conference wins is a number which has been bettered by only two other Bruin teams in school history. In addition, the Bruins were one of just two teams in the league to post a winning record on the road in conference games.
The team improved its scoring average from 59.0 points in 2002 to 73.0 last season. Field goal shooting improved from 34% to 42% and free throw shooting improved from 64% to a school record mark of 71.6% in 2003. The future seems bright indeed after freshmen accounted for 41% of the team's scoring a year ago.
Now, Olivier returns five of the top six scorers from a year ago and the top three rebounders. Sophomore Nikki Blue, the leading returning scorer at 16.6 points per game, possesses one of the top all-around games in the conference and finished second in the league in steals, sixth in assists, eighth in assist / turnover ratio and 18th in rebounding.
"Nikki proved what kind of player she is last season," says Olivier. "The sky is the limit for her."
Two other starters return, both seniors, forwards Whitney Jones and Jamila Veasley. Jones averaged 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds and has 60 career starts. Veasley scored 3.5 points and grabbed 4.9 rebounds per contest while starting all 29 games last season and 47 for her career.
They will be joined by senior guard Gennifer Arranaga who had her second straight solid season, averaging 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 29 games off the bench. Junior Sissy Pickett, a 6-7 post player, saw action in 12 games and averaged 2.1 points and 1.3 boards.
It is the rising sophomore class from which Coach Olivier is really expecting big things. As a group last season, they averaged approximately 40 points and 17 rebounds per game. "I am counting on the sophomores to provide scoring, defense and leadership this coming season," says Olivier.
Nikki Blue may have led the way, but by no means was she alone. Forward Julia Pitts started the first eight games of the season and averaged 10.0 points and 5.9 rebounds. The 6-2 Pitts injured her knee in that eighth game and was forced to undergo season-ending surgery shortly thereafter. Her rehab process is on schedule for her to take part in the fall practices, which begin in October.
Guard / forward Lisa Willis proved to be a dynamic catalyst in many games last season, averaging 7.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 29 games off the bench. She connected on 46 three-point shots, a total which ranked her second on the all-time school freshman list and sixth on the all-time school list. Her .343 shooting percentage from three-point range was the fifth-best ever by a freshman at UCLA. She also totaled 55 steals, making things happen at both ends of the court when she entered a game.
Sophomore post player Emma Tautolo saw action in 26 games last season and averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds. She will be looked on to provide a more physical presence on the inside this season. Sophomore guard Ortal Oren also is back. Oren, a very capable perimeter shooter, averaged 2.8 points this past season. She is poised for a much larger role on the team after spending most of last season adjusting to the college game.
Freshman forward Noelle Quinn headlines the incoming freshmen class which was listed as No. 7 in Blue Star Report and No. 6 in All-Star Girls Report. Quinn, a 6-0 guard / forward averaged 22.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 3.9 steals a game as a senior last year at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, CA. A Parade Magazine All-American, she helped her team win four league titles, three CIF Div. III championships, four California Regional Division III crowns and four CIF state championships. She was also selected a McDonald's All-American and played in the annual all-star game in New York.
Freshman forward Amanda Livingston averaged 17.5 points and 8.3 rebounds as a prep senior at Troy High School in Fullerton, CA. She was a two-time MVP of the Freeway League and led her team to the state championship in the school's first-ever trip to the title game last season. The 6-1 Livingston also helped her team to two CIF-Southern Section Div. II-AA titles in three seasons.
Consuelo Lezcano, a 6-4 center, averaged 21.2 points, 15.5 rebounds and nine blocks for Marathon High School in Marathon, FL. She scored 2,143 points in her prep career and was considered one of the top five recruits in the state of Florida by one publication. Shaina Zaidi, a 5-8 guard, averaged 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Marlborogh High School in Los Angeles. She helped her team to three straight Sunshine League titles and last year's Division IV-AA CIF Southern Section championship. Zaidi was selected to the first-team All-CIF Div. IV-AA squad.
"I can't wait for the start of practice," says Olivier, who is set to begin her 11th season as head coach at UCLA and 18th season overall on the Bruin bench. "We came on to finish strong last season and just missed out on an NCAA tournament bid. This year we will have as much athletic talent as we have ever had in my time at UCLA."
"We will miss the scoring of Michelle Greco and the leadership of Natalie Nakase, but we do add four outstanding recruits. Two of the four newcomers are inside players and we also expect Julia Pitts to be back from injury and help out on the inside as well."
"Once again we are playing a high-quality pre-season schedule which includes games with Texas, Purdue, Illinios, Michigan State and Ohio State. There is no better way to help prepare for the challenge of competing in the Pac-10."