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Visiting Locker Room: Diving deep into No. 2 UCLA women’s basketball with Daily Bruin

Looking at the underclassmen group, Lauren Betts and an achilles heel the Buckeyes can exploit.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 10 Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase - UCLA vs Florida State Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A few years ago, a game between Ohio State women’s basketball and UCLA would be a top contest but a fun outlier. Playing a West Coast team before the Big Ten schedule tipped off, or an enticing NCAA Tournament matchup. Now, Monday night’s matchup isn’t only a top 25 battle but a sign of things to come with the Bruins joining the conference at the start of the 24-25 season.

That means there’s some acquainting to do with the soon-to-be former Pac 12 side. To learn more about the Buckeyes’ next opponent, Land-Grant Holy Land reached out to Gavin Carlson, covering the Bruins women and men’s teams for Daily Bruin. Carlson talked about a group of sophomores the scarlet and gray will see for years to come, the dominance of center Lauren Betts and more about how Ohio State could take advantage of a key UCLA weakness.

Land-Grant Holy Land: UCLA is at another level this season. Averaging over 90 points a game and allowing just over 60. That’s with games against ranked sides like the UConn Huskies and Florida State Seminoles. Surprisingly enough, it’s through a strong group of underclassmen. Of them, Lauren Betts leads the way. What does the center do that makes UCLA so dangerous?

Bruin Times: For starters, being 6-foot-7 certainly doesn’t hurt. Lauren Betts will be the tallest player on the floor in essentially every single game UCLA plays. But beyond the height, Betts is tremendously skilled inside the paint.

You can’t be the No. 1 overall high school recruit as Betts was coming out of high school without the touch and patience she shows on post-ups, and after being limited in her freshman year at Stanford, the Bruins are letting her take over games when she has a clear advantage. She’s yet to shoot below 60% from the field in a game this season, so clearly she’s had that height and skill advantage in every game so far this season for UCLA. And it helps that she’s surrounded by a handful of talented perimeter players for the Bruins.

Teams have not been able to double team Betts for entire contests because the game then becomes too easy for the rest of UCLA’s talented roster. She’s been unstoppable since transferring to Westwood.

LGHL: Can you talk about the strengths of the three other standouts in Gabriela Jacquez, Londynn Jones and Kiki Rice?

BT: Kiki Rice was the No. 2 high school recruit behind Betts in 2022 primarily because of her playmaking ability, but she’s blossomed into an elite all-around point guard in her sophomore season. There’s really nothing Rice can’t do. She dropped 24 points against UConn, has already reached 10 assists in three games this year, and earned a triple double earlier this month. That should tell you everything you need to know about what she brings.

Gabriela Jaquez and Londynn Jones highlight the embarrassment of riches coach Cori Close has on her roster. Both are former top-25 overall high school recruits that would be the best players on other teams, but Jones is only the third best guard on the Bruins behind Rice and UCLA legend Charisma Osborne, while Jaquez isn’t regularly in the starting lineup.

Jones is just 5-foot-4 but is lightning quick and has a jumpshot. She’ll pick up your opposing guard full court often, and she had more than 20 points three times last season while hitting 47 threes for the year. Jaquez is an all-around player who often takes a back seat in the scoring department, but she has 30 and 23-point scoring performances this season against weaker opponents and is capable from anywhere on the floor.

LGHL: Even with UCLA playing the aforementioned teams, it was Princeton almost beating the Bruins. What did the Ivy League side, or what did UCLA not do, to make the game come down to a single possession, losing 77-74?

BT: Honestly, I was impressed with Princeton more than I saw anything concerning from UCLA in that game. The Tigers had a pair of guards combine for 44 points on 56% shooting, but the rest of their team shot 8-of-28 from the field. Maybe the Bruins are a little prone to giving up the occasional huge scoring performance on the perimeter, as Paige Bueckers did have 31 points in UConn’s loss to UCLA earlier this year, but the Bruins still have good perimeter defenders on their roster.

Above all else, Princeton only lost by 3 because UCLA turned the ball over 16 times. Turnovers are easily the Bruins’ biggest issue – they rank tied-for-162nd with 16 turnovers per game. That’s UCLA’s weakness, and Princeton did a better job than most at taking advantage of it.

LGHL: Ohio State is known for its blistering, havoc-inducing, full court press. Has UCLA gone up against a team who uses that strategy? How has it gone for a young Bruins side?

BT: UCLA hasn’t dealt with much full court pressure that I can remember, but I anticipate the Bruins handling the Buckeyes’ press relatively well on Monday. That may seem surprising given the aforementioned turnover troubles for UCLA, but its mistakes are often unforced. The Bruins still have as experienced a guard as there is in the country with Charisma Osborne, Kiki Rice is equally trustworthy breaking the press, and UCLA has plenty of perimeter depth if they need to play small in order to have enough ball-handlers to break the press. I’d expect Cori Close to have her team ready for that pressure from Ohio State.