Nov. 6, 2011
Coach Cori Close's No.22-ranked (AP) Bruins will battle Vanguard University on Monday, Nov. 7, at 7 pm in the John Wooden Center in their only exhibition contest prior to the start of the regular season.
The Vanguard University of Southern California (Costa Mesa, CA) went 17-12 last season and 12-8 in Golden State Athletic Conference play. The Lions ended the season ranked 19th in the NAIA after losing in the first round of the NAIA tournament.
UCLA will open the 2011-12 regular season on Nov. 11 against McNeese State (26-7 last season and champion of the Southland Conference) at 2 pm. The game will be played in the John Wooden Center and is the opening round of the 16-team WNIT Tournament which also features top-ranked Baylor and No. 2 Notre Dame.
The Bruins look to recapture the momentum of one of the school's most productive seasons on record as Cori Close begins her first season at the helm after being named head women's basketball coach on April 21, 2011.
UCLA welcomes back eight letterwinners from last season's squad (28-5) which finished second in the Pac-10 (16-2) and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. There are two starters in that mix in Markel Walker and Atonye Nyingifa. A third starter was set to return, but Jasmine Dixon, the second-leading scorer and top rebounder on the team who earned honorable mention AP All-American honors last season, ruptured her Achilles tendon in a September team workout. A total of three freshmen complete the roster.
"Our theme this season is the motto "uncommon," said Close. "If one wants an uncommon result then one needs to be willing to make the uncommon sacrifice." The Bruins total of 28 wins was the second-most in UCLA history (record: 29 in 1980-81). The 26 regular season wins was the most ever. With 22 wins in its first 24 games, UCLA achieved its best start of all-time. The 16 Conference wins were the program's highest total ever as were the eight Pac-10 games won on the road. In fact, UCLA posted a 16-3 record away from home last season, going 12-2 in true away games to surpass the school record total of 11 true road wins (1991-1992).
Guard Rebekah Gardner (6-1) posted career-bests in scoring average (7.9), rebound average (3.3), shooting percentage (43%) and three-point shots made (23). She saw action in 32 games with 11 starts and made at least one three-point shot in 17 games while playing double-digit minutes in 31 contests."Rebekah must work to become a consistent double-digit scorer for us ," said Close. "She reported in great physical shape. On defense, she plays long and uses her lateral quickness to advantage. This is her senior season and she is playing like it."
Jasmine Dixon (6-0) saw action in 31 games with 28 starts. She ranked eighth in Pac-10 rebounding (7.3), third in steals (2.4), fourth in offensive rebounding (3.4), fourth in field goal % (53%). "It is a tremendous disappointment when something like this (injury) happens," offered Close. "We are not only losing an outstanding player but someone who made the players around her better."
Forward Atonye Nyingifa (5-11) is a player with a game that keeps on developing. Last season, she saw action in 33 games, making 27 starts. Nyingifa ranked fifth in the conference in field goal % (52%), ninth in offensive rebounding (2.4) and tied for19th rebounding (5.4). She finished the season on a high note, hitting for double-digit points in nine of last 16 games and connecting on 21 of her last 24 free throws. "Atonye brings quick hands and versatility," noted Close. "She may have to play a little out of position for us in the short run, but she is capable of asserting herself wherever she lines up. We will ask her to make more plays and create a niche for herself at the offensive end."
Forward/guard Markel Walker (6-1) saw action in 33 games with 21 starts and led the team in assists. She ranked eighth in Pac-10 assists (3.2), 10th in assist/turnover ratio,15th in field goal %, 15th in free throw % and T-19th in rebounding. She totaled at least three assists in 20 games."Markel has unlimited athleticism and an incredible basketball IQ," said Close. "She understands the game and is like another coach on the floor. She is working on tightening up her skills progression."
Mariah Williams (5-4) is a guard with speed and quickness. She saw action in 28 games in a reserve role last season playing double-digit minutes in 16 games. "Mariah is our team energizer," added Close. "She sets the pace on the defensive end of the floor. She must handle the ball and know who needs to touch it, and when, on the offensive end. This will be a big step for her and she is capable of handling the assignment."
Jackie Shepard (5-10) is a guard with shooting skills. She saw action in six games last season. "Jackie does so many things to help her team that people who come to the games will never see," added Close.
Forward/center Corinne Costa (6-4) saw action in 27 games off the bench last season. She connected on 57% of her field goals and averaged 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds pre contest."Corinne has improved her game," said Close. "She has an effective hook shot, the ability to alter shots in the lane and her mobility is improving. Her inside presence will be important to us. "
Rhema (RAY-muh) Gardner (6-1) saw action in 22 games in a reserve role in her freshman season. A tremendous athlete, she grew each day during the season as a basketball player."Rhema is the most improved player on the squad," added Close. "She had a tremendous commitment to off-season conditioning and in-the-gym work. We need her to become a factor on the boards at both ends of the court. She gets more deflections at the defensive end than any of our players and her offensive work over the summer has paid off."
Thea Lemberger (5-7) saw action in 14 games in a reserve role in her freshman year. She saw her progress stymied by a nagging foot injury which forced her to sit out 13 games. As a senior in high school, she averaged 18.3 points per game while helping Santa Monica HS reach the semifinals of the state regional playoffs after capturing the Div. 1 CIF SS championship."Thea must step up at the offensive end of the court," added Close. "She is one of the players on this team that can stretch a defense. Doing that, it will open things up for her teammates."
Alyssia Brewer (6-3) played the last three seasons at Tennessee. She averaged 6.9 ppg and 4.6 rpg in her 87 career games, which included 20 starts. Brewer will sit out this season and be eligible for her final season of competition in 2012-13.
Moriah Faulk (5-10) played her junior and senior prep seasons at Santa Monica High School. She averaged 13.7 points per game as a senior for a team which went 23-10. She scored in double-digits in 23 games and connected on 25 three-point shots as a senior."Moriah is a smooth, strong guard," said Close. "She has a great pull-up jumper and brings a point sense and feel to the game. She has the ability to really help us on the offensive and defensive glass."
Alexis Perry (5-7) signed with the Bruins after coach Close took over the program. She played in one of the most successful high school programs in the nation at Brea-Olinda. Perry averaged 10 points, six rebounds and two steals per game as a senior when her team went 31-2 and was ranked No. 4 in the nation, No. 2 in the state. "She is a leader," said Close. "She knows who needs to get the ball and she gets it to them at the right time. It was her dream to play at UCLA."
Kacy Swain (6-3) comes to UCLA after playing one season at St. Bernard's High School in Playa del Rey,CA. She was rated as the No. 25 player in the nation and No. 9 forward by ESPNU Hoop Gurlz and averaged 11.3 points, 3.2 blocks, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals as a senior. She had15 double-digits scoring games and 16 double-digit rebounds games in a senior season in which her team advanced to the state championship game."Kacy is a strong, powerful athlete who runs the court well," offered coach Close. "She is working hard to develop her game and make the adjustment to the college level."