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Michelle Smith: UCLA peaking in WNIT; ASU introduces Natasha Adair as head coach

Mar 29, 2022

UCLA coach Cori Close said during the Pac-12 Tournament that she believed her team was good enough to be included in the NCAA field and that it was playing at a level worthy of a spot in the brackets.

But when the Bruins didn’t get it, they decided to make the most of the WNIT experience, to play more games, establish more culture, and win some more.

UCLA (18-12) eliminated Oregon State in Corvallis on Sunday to advance to WNIT semifinals, where it will play South Dakota State on Thursday in Brookings, South Dakota for a spot in the title game Saturday.

Junior guard Charisma Osborne scored 31 points to go with 10 rebounds in the win over the Beavers.

The Bruins have won seven of their last eight games, their most successful stretch of the season.

“I’m proud of what it’s brought out of us,” said Close.

Close said her team, which was riddled with injuries and dealt with a long COVID pause during the season, is finally coming together.

“I went back and watched our (previous) game against Oregon State and I don’t even recognize that team,” Close said. “On Sunday, 60 of our points were scored by people who didn’t even play in the last game.”

Osborne said after Sunday’s win that she’s excited to be playing.

“It’s so fun to be playing with this group,” Osborne said. “Not having the crowd on our side and having to feed off of each other’s energy. I’m just really enjoying the process.

“We want to win. We weren’t just playing this tournament to play in this tournament.”

Close said she is focusing on giving her seniors a special experience to close their careers and giving her younger players some valuable experience in “pressurized environments.”

UCLA won the WNIT in 2015, setting the program on a course in which they went to four straight NCAA Sweet 16s from 2016-19 and to the 2018 Elite Eight.

With the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class coming in, including the nation’s No. 2-ranked player in point guard Kiki Rice, Close hopes this experience propels them in the same way.

“We are putting things together and learning how to play,” Close said, “I think these are some anchors and markers that they will be able to come back to next season.”

ASU Introduces Adair

With Arizona State’s new head women’s basketball coach Natasha Adair sitting beside him — the program’s first new leader in a quarter-century — ASU athletic director Ray Anderson Monday said that he was charged with finding a “premier coach with premier-plus potential.”

Which brings us to Adair, an experienced head coach who has spent the last five seasons at Delaware, where she coached the Blue Hens to back-to-back 24-win seasons and will now bring her talents to Tempe following the retirement of Charli Turner Thorne earlier this month.

“It’s a big, big challenge to follow Charli,” Anderson said. “We wanted someone with experience and their own tenacity to do things in a different way.”

Adair was introduced formally on Monday, and said she wants to build on the foundation laid by Turner Thorne’s long tenure.

“I’m honored just to have the distinction of leading this women’s basketball program,” Adair said. “That foundation has been laid and now I want to take a step further.”

Anderson called the three-week search for a new head coach “exhaustive, deliberate and complete.”

Christina Wombacher, ASU’s senior woman administrator, said she consulted with the student athletes on the ASU team, and said “her passion for this place, her passion to win and the family atmosphere she has developed and I know she will here as well” was what convinced her that Adair was the right fit.

Adair said she wants to run a “player-led, coach-supported” program.

“This is your program,” Adair said to the players in the room for the press conference. “This is your team. You matter. We are going to get to your ‘why’ and take it a step further.”

Adair also shared her on-court philosophy.

“We are going to dominate with defense, be relentless with rebounds, push in transition and we are going to score,” Adair said to applause in the room. “We are going to put points on the board. We are going to score.

“We want to make sure whoever we play, they are uncomfortable every step of the way.”

Adair has already met with players.

“I wanted them to know I’m here for them,” Adair said. “They came here to win and we are going to work our tails off.”

As for taking her place in a competitive Pac-12 Conference?

“It’s always great to be in good company,” Adair said. “When you are in a competitive conference, you can recruit the best players. It’s great to talk about what we have, and to sell the conference and competitive basketball every night. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”