March 19, 2023 

UCLA’s depth shines as Bruins kick off NCAA Tournament with a win

Can the Bruins' unusually deep rotation be an advantage in March?

When backup center Brynn Masikewich entered the game for UCLA early in the second quarter on Saturday night, all 10 available players for the Bruins had gotten minutes.

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Compare that to the Bruins’ first round NCAA Tournament opponent the Sacramento State Hornets, who only played eight players all game.

Most college basketball teams have a tight rotation and may only play around eight players each game. But the Bruins have what you might call a good problem to have. Additional depth is never a bad thing especially as the wear and tear of the season begins to set in and deep tournament runs occur. The key to managing that depth is making sure each player understands their role and buys in to the system.

As UCLA head coach Cori Close sat at the podium for her postgame media availability following the Bruins’ 67-45 victory over Sacramento State, she relished the fact that she has a team that understands the nature of fluctuating roles when managing a deep roster.

“I think everybody has got to stay ready and everybody has got to stay selfless. Selflessness is about, ‘Hey, what does the team need from me today? And whatever that is, I’m willing to do,'” Close said. “Maybe it won’t be that way. Our game plan was really good for that today because we wanted to speed them up, we wanted to press so we wanted to keep fresh bodies in there to keep that going.”

The advantages to the depth the Bruins have was on full display against the Hornets. Senior guard Charisma Osborne was the Bruins leading scorer this season at 15.8 points per game. She didn’t reach double-digits in scoring until the 3:24 mark of the fourth quarter, with the game already long decided.

But with all the weapons the Bruins have, she didn’t need to make her mark on the game by scoring points. Through three quarters she had 12 rebounds and five assists and she finished the game with zero turnovers.

UCLA has had different leading scorers from game to game. Sometimes it’s been freshman sensation Kiki Rice. Other times it’s been fellow freshman Londynn Jones. During the Pac-12 Tournament, it was Emily Bessoir, especially when she tallied 18 points and 13 rebounds against Arizona. Even Gabriela Jaquez and Gina Conti led the Bruins in scoring for games during this season.

Being able to act as a primary playmaker and allow her teammates to flourish is something that Osborne has come to love.

“The last few years I’ve gotten a lot of experience and I’m grateful for that,” Osborne said after the game. “I like having the ball in my hands and I like making plays for my teammates. I don’t always have to score. If I can get other people shots and do things to impact the game, then I’m going to try to do that for my team.”

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A big part of what enables UCLA to boast such strong depth is this season’s freshman class. Joining Rice and Jones on campus this year were Jaquez, Christeen Iwuala and Lina Sontag, all of whom have been key players at times this season. The group was ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

There was one point in the game on Saturday when Osborne was the only non-freshman out on the court for the Bruins. All five of the team’s freshmen are clearly still learning and adjusting to playing college basketball but they’ve picked up things quickly and UCLA doesn’t have a lot of the success they’ve had this season without contributions from each of them.

“I didn’t even notice so that’s a testament to them, they’re playing like vets now,” Osborne said. “I don’t think any other team in the country is able to do that. I think they played really great tonight and I think everyone actually played pretty well. It was super fun out there with them and I’m excited that they’re out here experiencing March Madness.”

The Bruins will once again host on Monday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against a much different opponent in the No. 5 seed Oklahoma Sooners. Close knows that the game might be a lot different in terms of her rotations and even more so should the Bruins continue to advance.

“What I love about this team is that one, we have options. Number two, we’re selfless. And number three, I think that we have so many different weapons that play against different styles,” Close said. “It may not be the same every single game through the tournament. Right now, I just want to make sure that we’re mentally prepared and that we’re completely selfless and then we’ll see what the game brings.”

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David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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