Pac-12 Feature: UCLA's Billings has renewed focus in 2017

Eric Evans Photography

UCLA’s Monique Billings walked with her coach Cori Close to the postgame press conference after the Bruins tough loss to South Carolina last month.

Billings, who pulled down a career-high 22 rebounds in that game, put her arm around her coach and asked if coach could cut some film and show her the rebounds she didn’t get that game and what she could do better.

“As a coach, you want players who are going to add to their ‘toolbox’ every year, who set goals to improve and put in the work to do it, and rarely does it happen like that,” Close said. “But with Monique, that’s what she’s done. She drives to be a better player.”

As the Bruins head to Washington this weekend to take on Washington State and Washington – in one of the top matchups of the Pac-12 season – Billings, the junior forward from Corona, California, is averaging 17.2 points a game, close behind leading scorer Jordin Canada at 18.0 and ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounding at 11.0 per game. She also ranks among the Pac-12 leaders in field-goal percentage, blocked shots and steals.

Billings was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after averaging 18.5 points and 15.5 points a game in wins over Colorado and Utah.

Billings said she is focused this season on consistency. Her goal is to maintain a high level of play from game-to-game. Averaging a double-double would certainly indicate she’s heading in the right direction.

Billings has worked on her face-up game and her passing heading into this season. And she’s become a better leader, Close said.

“She really understands now that your best players have to be your best leaders, the ones who sacrifice the most and put in the time,” Close said. “She’s really stepped into that role.”

Close said that when Billings first arrived in Westwood, she thought that if she took care of her business and her teammates took care of theirs, success would follow.

“But she really gets now that it’s about team and the influence she has on everyone in terms of work ethic,” Close said.

Billings said she is taking advantage of the “resources” at her disposal, including the feedback of coaches, teammates and inspiration from two of the best players in Pac-12 history.

“I talked with Nneka Ogwumike a few weeks ago and she was really helpful,” Billings said. “I’ve talked to Chiney too. I really look up to their games. It’s good for me to talk to people like them.”

Billings said she is not focused on what UCLA has already accomplished – an 11-2 record and a No. 7 national ranking – but on the work still to be done.

“There is always room for improvement,” Billings said. “We are off to a great start, but I don’t want to dwell on that because we want more.”

Close said she recently heard from a WNBA coach who complimented Close on Billings’ improvement.

“It’s not me,” Close said. “Monique has done this on her own. She gets all the credit.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.

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