2007-08 UCLA Women's Basketball Season Outlook
Oct. 23, 2007
There is a sensation of new energy pulsating throughout the UCLA women's basketball program for 2007-08. The Bruins welcome back seven letterwinners from last year's team and perhaps the deepest and most highly-regarded recruiting haul in school history. It will also be one of the youngest teams in school history and features one senior, two juniors and 10 sophomores and freshmen.
The list of returnees includes three of the top five scorers, the top two shot blockers, two of the top three assist makers, three of the top four in steals, and two of the top three in rebounding average. There are three returning starters in the mix, and each ranked among the Pac-10 leaders in at least one statistical category in the 2006-07 season.
Leading returning scorer Lindsey Pluimer (15.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) tops the list of returning starters, which also includes forwards Chinyere Ibekwe (32 starts in 2006-07) and guard Tierra Henderson (31 starts in 2006-07).
Pluimer ranked amongst the top 10 in the conference last season in six categories, including scoring with the ninth-best mark. Also a standout in the classroom, she earned second-team All-District 8 Academic All-American honors and first-team All-Pac-10 academic accolades.
'Pluimer has improved each year in the program,' said UCLA head coach Kathy Olivier. 'She has become one of the best and most versatile players on the West Coast.'
Junior center Chinyere Ibekwe rated among the conference's best in rebounding (11th), shooting percentage (.503) and offensive rebounds (2.78).
'I am counting on Rey Rey (Ibekwe) to complement Pluimer as a leader for our large group of young players,' said Olivier. 'Together they will play a big role in bringing along our highly-regarded recruiting class.'
Junior guard Tierra Henderson led the team and ranked fourth in the conference in steals (2.09). Henderson's hard-nosed defensive presence sets the tone for the rest of the team.
In addition, the Bruins return four sophomores to the fold. Moniquee Alexander, a 6-6 center; Erica Tukiainen (formerly Latimer), a 6-0 guard/forward; Allison Taka, a 5-8 guard; Alexis Olivier, a 5-8 guard.
To this mix of returning players, UCLA adds six of the most highly regarded newcomers in the nation. The class as a whole was ranked fourth-best in the nation by All-Star Girls Report and tied for eighth-best by HoopGurlz.com. It features four 6-foot plus frontcourt players in 6-3 Candice Brown from Bishop Amat HS in LaPuente, CA and 6-4 Christina Nzekwe and 6-3 Regina Rogers, prep teammates at Chief Sealth HS in Seattle, WA. Six-one forward Nina Earl (Pomona, CA/Diamond Ranch HS) and guards Doreena Campbell (5-10, Alexandria, VA Edison HS) and Darxia Morris (5-8, Pasadena, CA Muir HS) round out the impressive group.
'The good thing about our freshman class is that we have players at every position,' said coach Olivier. 'Plus, with this kind of depth, we will be able to play more of a pressure style of defense.'
Olivier, who is set to begin her 15th season as head coach at UCLA and 22nd season overall on the Bruin bench added, 'I can't wait for the season to start. I sense that we have as hungry a group of players as any I can remember. We will have an exciting level of competition in each drill we do from the first day of practice on. There are no guarantees, all starting positions are up for grabs. Different people will need to step up at different times to make this team the best it can be. Each player needs to be ready to perform at their peak level at all times or risk having another push them out of the way for playing time.'Armed with depth, athleticism, size and quickness, expect the Bruins to play a more up-tempo and explosive game in 2007-08.
Tierra Henderson (5-10, junior) handled the ball and keyed the defense in her first season with consistent playing time. Henderson made 31 starts in 2006-07 and averaged 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds. She led the team in steals average with a 2.09/g mark, which ranked fourth in the Pac-10 Conference. Her steals total of 89 ranked her eighth on UCLA's all-time list for sophomore players. She scored in double figures in five games and had 14 contests with at least six points.
'Tierra plays with a level of intensity that is almost intimidating to opponents,' said Olivier. 'She has worked extremely hard to improve her offense, and you can tell that she now takes pride in having good fundamentals. She is excited for a very competitive environment in practice and in games.'
Erica Tukiainen (6-0, sophomore) is a versatile wing player. The former Erica Latimer (she took her mother's last name over the summer) saw action in all 32 games in 2006-07 and averaged 2.8 points and 1.2 rebounds per contest. Tukiainen exhibited excellent defensive quickness and displayed a good shooting range (made 11 of 27 three-point shots). She totaled a career-best 12 points, scoring six in a span of 30 seconds, to help key a Bruin comeback win over California. She scored at least four points in 10 ballgames.
'Erica is capable of being a factor in a game at both ends of the court,' said Olivier. 'She is athletic and has a long wingspan to be effective defensively. On offense, she has the ability to shoot from distance and score off the dribble. She looks more confident this year and has taken pride in filling a leadership role and in being a vocal team leader.'
Allison Taka (5-8, sophomore) is a true point guard who saw action in eight games last season. She is a hard worker and can be a vocal leader. She scored two points versus Gonzaga and had two in the Pac-10 Conference Tournament win over Washington State.
'Allison brings the intangibles every basketball team needs,' said Olivier. 'She knows the game and enjoys the challenges of competing on a daily basis. She has worked very hard in the off-season at getting stronger and has really accepted the challenge of being at this level.'
Alexis Olivier (5-8, sophomore) saw action off the bench in three contests last season. It was in practices that she really contributed with her work ethic and team-first mentality.
'Ali has a super approach towards the game and is a player who understands that it's all about the team,' said coach Olivier. 'She's extremely coachable and brings it each day and works hard to make herself and her teammates better than the day before.'
Doreena Campbell (5-10, freshman) averaged 19.7 points per game last season at Edison High School in Alexandria, VA. She was an EA Sports first-team All-American and an honorable mention Street and Smith's All-America selection who totaled over 2,000 career points and over 500 assists during her prep career. Her 2,237 point total ranked fifth on the all-time Virginia HS list, and her 566 assists ranked second all-time. Campbell scored in double digits in all 113 of her high school games while leading her team to a record of 104-9 in her career.
'Doreena has very good overall skills and excellent fundamentals,' Olivier pointed out. 'We are going to use her at the point and at the off-guard position. She is a player who is not going to make a lot of mistakes, and she can score or get the ball to the right person to score.'
Darxia Morris (5-9, freshman) averaged 14.9 points last season for Muir HS in Pasadena, CA, helping lead her team to a 26-2 record and a perfect 14-0 mark in the Pacific League. Morris is expected to handle point guard duties for the Bruins.
'Darxia is an explosive player with the ball,' Olivier said. 'She has the ability to get into the lane and make things happen. With experience, I know she is going to do a great job for us pushing the ball up the court.'
Lindsey Pluimer (6-4, senior) has made 92-straight starts for the Bruins and averaged 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest last year. During the 2006-07 season, she became the 16th UCLA player to reach the 1,000-point and 500-rebound marks. She ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring, fifth in free throw % (.817), ninth in offensive rebounds (2.44), 10th in field goal % (.488), 10th in blocked shots (0.84), sixth in minutes played (35.8/g).
Both Pluimer's field goal percentage (.488) and free throw percentage (.817) represented career bests and the third straight season in which she has upped her percentages and totals in points, rebounds, assists and blocks.Pluimer also excelled in the classroom and earned first-team All-Pac-10 Academic team honors and second-team All-District 8 academic honors.
'Lindsey has a level of consistency that is unusual in a player who is so versatile,' said Olivier. 'And as good as she is, she is constantly working to improve her game in every little way. This year, she is a featured returning player for the first time in her career, and you can see the differences already. She carries herself like a senior, her confidence is very high, she's more outspoken, and she's worked hard to get stronger. Lindsey has embraced each challenge she has faced during her career and found success. I expect more of the same this season. '
Chinyere Ibekwe (6-4, junior) led the team in rebounding last season with a 6.6 average. She ranked among the best in the Pac-10 in shooting percentage (.503/8th) and offensive rebounds (2.78/6th). Ibekwe has played at a very high level at times as evidenced by such games as her 21-point, 11-rebound effort against Gonzaga. She had six double figure rebounding games and scored in double figures in eight contests during the 2006-07 season.
'Rey Rey is a very determined young lady,' said Olivier. 'She wants to play a big role on this team. She has passion for the game and for being a Bruin and is going to do whatever she can to help the team achieve its goals.'
Moniquee Alexander (6-6, sophomore) appeared in 31 games last season, averaging 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest. Alexander had nine games in which she scored at least six points in 2006-07. She gave hints of future production when she had eight points and 10 rebounds against UCSB, seven and six against Stanford, eight and six at Arizona State and 10 and eight at Arizona.
'Mo provides a big target inside, and she has the tools to get us easy baskets,' Olivier said. 'She has worked so hard in the off-season at her core strength, and her mentality has matured after a year of experience. I think she will be very effective for us this year.'
Christina Nzekwe (6-4, freshman) averaged 10 points and 11 rebounds last year for Chief Sealth High School in Seattle, WA. She was named an honorable mention Street and Smith's All-America selection. Nzekwe scored 15 points in the State 3A title game in 2007.
'Christina is a player who gives us a strength and power that we don't have,' Olivier said. 'She is focusing on her inside game but wants to eventually develop her perimeter game as well. She is the type of player who does all the intangibles. She hustles and is a hard-worker and over-achiever.'
Nina Earl (6-1, freshman) averaged 21.6 points per game at Pomona, CA Diamond Ranch High School and was an honorable mention Street and Smith's All-America selection. Earl scored 35 points in the CIF Championship game last season.
'Nina is a versatile player who is effective on the fast break,' Olivier said. 'She is mentally one of our toughest players, and she is the type of player who will size you up and know how to beat you. She will help us immediately defensively, and she knows how to score in different ways.'
Regina Rogers (6-3, freshman) was named honorable mention Street and Smith's All-America after averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds at Chief Sealth High in Seattle, WA.
'Regina is an active post player who gives us another big target inside,' Olivier said. 'She has very quick feet and good hands. She is also very smart with the basketball and thinks ahead of the game. '
Candice Brown (6-3, freshman) was a member of three CIF championship teams while at Bishop Amat HS in LaPuente, CA. She was named an honorable mention Street and Smith's All-American.
'Candice possesses good knowledge of the game,' Olivier said. 'She is all about winning and knows what needs to be done to win. Like with all young posts, she just needs to get experience and more strength at this level to become a real factor.'
The Bruins will face a schedule which features five teams which won conference or conference tournament championships a year ago --- SEC (Tennessee), Big Sky (Idaho State), Big West (UC Riverside), Mountain West (BYU) and Pac-10 (Stanford).
'Once again we are playing a high-quality pre-season schedule, which includes games with defending national champion Tennessee and the 2005-06 national champs from Maryland,' said Olivier. 'Both games will be in front of our fans. We will also see tournament teams from Idaho State, UC Riverside and BYU before embarking on the challenging Pac-10 schedule.'
Olivier expects her team to play at a high level regardless of the opposition.
'We are working on keeping a mentality that we play at the same level against all opponents, and not playing up or down to their level,' she said. 'We want to set a tone of UCLA Basketball.'