December 16, 2023
Arizona loses Maya Nnaji to medical school and other Pac-12 news
UCLA's Emily Bessoir injured, Washington's defense and more
Arizona’s short roster got shorter this week when sophomore forward Maya Nnaji announced that she would leave the program to focus on her goal of going to medical school. Nnaji came to Arizona as the highest-rated recruit in program history, the No. 9 recruit in the class of 2022 out of Minnesota. She played in nine of 10 games this season, averaging 10.2 points and 3.4 rebounds.
She did not play in the Wildcats’ home loss to Texas on Wednesday. At the time, head coach Adia Barnes said she was “focusing on academics.”
Nnaji is enrolled, according to P.J. Brown of the Arizona Daily Star, in an accelerated program at Arizona with a demanding course load that is difficult to balance with playing Power Five basketball.
“It’s difficult,” Barnes said after Wednesday’s game. “She misses her job shadowing, misses labs, internships. And then because [of] that, also misses basketball stuff, too. So that balance is hard. Not too many people could do that.”
Her departure leaves Barnes’ team with 10 available players.
Barnes tweeted her support for Nnaji, writing, “I love and fully support Maya. It takes courage to make a decision like this. Although I will miss her on the court I know that she is following her life long [sic] dream.”
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Emily Bessoir’s difficult ending
UCLA senior forward Emily Bessoir suffered a season-ending ACL injury playing with the German national team at the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2025 Qualifiers in mid-November. She had played in just one game for UCLA this season, but she was blossoming into an impact player who brought size and depth to the second-ranked Bruins.
Bessoir started 35 games for UCLA last season, averaging 9.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game after missing the 2021-22 season with a torn ACL.
“First, I’m just heartbroken for Emily, for her and for us,” UCLA coach Cori Close said in a statement. “She’s been such a steady leader for us and she had so many things going for her this year … It’s definitely not what any of us would have chosen, but our job now is to come alongside her and support her. She will still be an integral part of our leadership team; she will be making a difference like she always does, just in a different form.”
UCLA has six players averaging double-figure scoring, but Bessoir brought a little of everything to the table. That will be especially missed once the gauntlet of Pac-12 play begins.
Both Bessoir and senior forward Angela Dugalic spoke in October at Pac-12 media day about the fact that Close was willing to accommodate their national team commitments during the season. Dugalic plays for the Serbian national team. Both the Germans and the Serbians are positioning for berths in the Paris Olympics next summer.
“It’s huge for our coach to let us go because when she recruited us, she said, ‘We’ll make national team [commitments] work’,” Bessoir said in October. “It’s one thing to say that but another thing to actually go through with it, especially during this time of the year.”
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Oregon State’s home cooking
Oregon State’s 8-0 start features eight home wins. That’s because the Beavers have yet to play away from Corvallis.
Their first road trip of the season will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, when they travel to Hawaii to take on Southeast Louisiana and Texas Tech.
The comforts of home and a supportive environment at Gill Coliseum have been good to OSU, which is averaging nearly 80 points per game and shooting 48.5% from the field.
Huskies defending for their lives
The Washington Huskies got the distinction of winning the first game in the final season of the Pac-12 with their 60-55 win over rival Washington State last Sunday.
The Huskies pushed their record to 10-0 for the first time since 1997-98 with their first win over a ranked team this season. The Cougars were ranked No. 21 coming into the game but fell out of the AP rankings following the loss.
As was the case last season when Washington ran to the WNIT semifinals, the team is building its success on defense, allowing just 47 points per game. Washington set the tone for the win by holding the Cougars to two first-quarter points and taking a 20-point lead at the half.
JuJu Watkins looks like a Pac-12 Player of the Year
There have been five Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards handed out this season. USC’s JuJu Watkins has won all five. Watkins, who is leading the conference and ranks second nationally with 27.3 points per game, is also positioning herself as an early front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
The last freshman to be named Pac-12 Player of the Year was Stanford’s Candice Wiggins in 2004-05. Wiggins went on to win the Wade Trophy, a national player of the year award, and be picked third overall in the 2008 WNBA Draft. That’s pretty good company.
Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.