2014-15 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Media Day

Media Day: Oct. 22 at noon PT
Live on Pac-12 Networks

UCLA women's basketball jumps back into Pac-12 race with No. 1 recruiting class

Dhon Santos/Pac-12.com

SAN FRANCISCO – There’s no way around it: UCLA suffered through a down year in 2013-14. With so many injuries and at times being able to only practice with five players, the Bruins went 13-18 and 7-11 in the Pac-12.

Don’t expect them to be down for long, though, because the Bruins are bringing in the No. 1 class in the country according to ESPN HoopGurlz. Featuring five five-star recruits, this class has the conference coaches thinking UCLA could finish fourth in the Pac-12 and get back to the NCAA tournament.

[Related: Stanford picked by coaches to win Pac-12 in 2014-15]

Headlining the group are point guards Jordin Canada and Recee’ Caldwell (the No. 4 and 19 recruits nationally, per ESPN), forwards Lajahna Drummer and Monique Billings (eighth and 38th) and wing Kelli Hayes (No. 26). Three of the five – Canada, Caldwell and Drummer – were 2014 McDonald’s All-Americans. Canada and Caldwell figure to get major minutes right away at the 1, while it’s still anybody’s guess how much time the others will get. What is for sure is that this freshman class makes the team a whole lot deeper than the 2013-14 version of the Bruins.

“There’s just really good, healthy competition,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said Wednesday at 2014-15 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day. “Kelli Hayes, I thought in our scrimmage, was the biggest surprise last weekend. Lajahna Drummer is one of the most efficient players on every touch. Monique Billings is our jaw-dropping player of the fall – she just makes plays athletically that very few in the country can make.”

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Yes, this group is young and will make freshmen mistakes, but Close really likes the way they all fit together.

“I’m excited about their complementary pieces,” Close said. “We’re not trying to build any individual things, we’re trying to build a really complete, sustained, excellent puzzle. I think it’s sort of what they’re doing off the court as much as what they’re doing on the court.”

[Related: 12 women's hoops games to watch on Pac-12 Networks in 2014-15]

It’s not often that you see a team haul in the No. 1 recruiting class coming off a season in which it didn't advance to the NCAA tournament. Just chalk it up to Cori Close being a great recruiter and one who can connect with her players.

“She’s just really genuine," Nirra Fields said of her coach. "She is just really caring and loves you. It doesn’t matter if you’re scoring 20 or 30 points a game; she’s not going to love you any more or any less because of that. She’s just very giving; she cares about us more off the court than on the court, and she takes her time to get to know you and develop a relationship with you.”

Close quickly followed Fields' praise with a hit of humility.

“What [Fields] won’t say is that I hired great assistant coaches, and that’s the reality of it."

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