LOS ANGELES – The UCLA women’s basketball team has put together another challenging non-conference schedule for the upcoming 2014-15 season as it will face both of last season’s NCAA finalists in back-to-back games this year.
Out of the 11 non-conference games, the Bruins will play six different teams that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago and potentially another two squads that were selected for the NIT field. Additionally, only six of those contests will be in Pauley Pavilion.
Last year, the Bruins’ non-conference strength of schedule ranked No. 3 in the country (tops in the Pac-12) and helped UCLA to a No. 26 overall ranking in the RPI, heading into league play. Ten of the Bruins’ 12 non-league opponents finished the season with a winning record.
“When you take on a schedule of this magnitude, you need to have a complete buy in from your team,” UCLA Head Coach Cori Close said. “I think it will be the No. 1 schedule in the country so we will need No. 1 preparation and togetherness to match. I sent the schedule to our players before we committed and asked them to respond with what they wanted and to their level of commitment. After their response, there was no doubt in my mind, this group really wants to be uncommon.”
After an exhibition game with Westmont on Nov. 2, the Bruins will open the season with four straight NCAA Tournament teams, starting with two rematches on the road against opponents that took down the Bruins last year. UCLA will open at James Madison (Colonial Athletic Association, 29-6) in Harrisonburg, Va., on Nov. 14 and then head to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face North Carolina (ACC, 27-10) on Nov. 16. JMU lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, while the Tar Heels fell at Stanford in the Elite 8.
The Bruins return home to face Texas (Big 12, 22-12) on Nov. 23. The Longhorns lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Maryland, an eventual Final Four team. The Bruins close out the month with yet another rematch from a year ago as Nebraska (Big 10, 26-7) comes to town on Nov. 28. The Cornhuskers were upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Pauley Pavilion last year by BYU.
The Bruins conclude a five-game home stand with three home games to open December. The Bruins host Cincinnati (American Athletic Conference, 13-18) on Dec. 2, UC Riverside (Big West, 6-23) on Dec. 10 and Sacramento State (Big Sky, 18-12) on Dec. 12.
The Bruins then hit the road for a Holiday Classic, hosted by Tulane (New Orleans, La.) on Dec. 18-19. While the tournament pairings have not been finalized, the Bruins could possibly face Tulane (Conference USA, 20-11), a team that lost in the first round of the NIT, or another NIT team in Miami (ACC, 16-15), which also lost in the opening round. Rounding out the field in New Orleans is Samford (Southern Conference, 10-20).
“I'm excited to play all of the tough teams that are on our schedule this year,” senior forward/center Corinne Costa said. “With all of the new players we have, and the fact that we have a full roster, I'm excited to find out what we can accomplish.”
The rest of December will be a rigorous stretch of games as the Bruins will travel to Uncasville, Conn., to face the two-time defending NCAA Champions, Connecticut (American Athletic Conference, 40-0), at the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Holiday Showcase on Dec. 21 at Mohegan Sun Arena. UCLA will make it two straight NCAA Finalists as they host Notre Dame (ACC, 37-1) on Dec. 28. The Fighting Irish suffered their only loss of the season to the Huskies in the NCAA title game. While the Pac-12 Conference slate has yet to be announced, the Bruins will likely close out December and open up league play with a road game at Pac-12 Tournament winner USC on Dec. 30.
The UCLA women’s basketball team enters the 2014-15 season with a renewed optimism having signed the program’s first-ever No. 1 recruiting class in the country, featuring three McDonald’s All-Americans (Recee’ Caldwell, Jordin Canada and Lajahna Drummer) and five newcomers all ranked in the Top 30 in the country (Kelli Hayes and Monique Billings are the other two standouts in the class). The three incoming McDonald’s selections will join another McDonald’s All-American, junior guard Nirra Fields, giving the Bruins four on the court for the first time in program history.
"I believe you should play the best competition if you want to get better,” Caldwell said. “This schedule will provide a great growing and learning experience. We just need to prepare, every day, to be the best that we can be. If we do that, we'll be just fine.”
The Bruins return three starters from a year ago, including Fields (17.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.2 spg) and senior center Luiana Livulo (4.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, only player to start all 31 games last year). Two other players combined to start in 27 games, depending on if the Bruins went small or big with their lineup. Sophomore guard Dominique Williams (0.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.2 apg, 15 starts) and Costa (6.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 12 starts) both made double-digit starts in 2013-14.
“I'm very excited to play some of the best teams in the nation,” Fields said. “You can learn a lot about yourself and your teammates when you are competing against the best of the best. I always look forward to a challenge like this.”
Returning from the sidelines of an injury-plagued 2013-14 season is redshirt sophomore guard Kari Korver (4.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 38 three-pointers), the 2012 high school three-point shooting champion, and redshirt junior forward Kacy Swain (3.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, .816 FT%) a key reserve from the 2012-13 team that won 26 games and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Also returning from injury is redshirt freshman forward Paulina Hersler (Malmö, Sweden) and returning from her redshirt season is freshman center Savanna Trapp (Esko, Minn.). The Bruins also retain the services of senior guard Madeline Brooks (2.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, .347 three-point FG%).
Women’s basketball season tickets are on sale now at the UCLA Central Ticket Office (310-UCLA-WIN). For more ticket information, or to buy tickets now, click here.
2014-15 UCLA Women's Basketball Non-Conference Schedule
Nov. 2 - Westmont (Exhibition)
Nov. 14 - at James Madison
Nov. 16 - at North Carolina
Nov. 23 - Texas
Nov. 28 - Nebraska
Dec. 2 - Cincinnati
Dec. 10 - UC Riverside
Dec. 12 - Sacramento State
Dec. 18-19 - vs. TBD (at Tulane DoubleTree Classic, New Orleans)
Dec. 21 - vs. Connecticut (at Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Holiday Showcase, Uncasville, Conn.)
Dec. 28 - Notre Dame