NEW YORK — UCLA coach Cori Close brought her team to New York for the holidays, giving the 11th-ranked Bruins a chance to bond as a team, take in the sights, go shopping and get ready for Pac-12 play.
“One of my favorite things is enabling and watching young women experience things they wouldn’t otherwise,” Close said. “For me, it was watching them process the 9-11 Memorial and the whole museum and then we went to the observatory on top of the World Trade Center. This is my fourth time bringing a team here at Christmas time and it never gets old watching them experience things for the first time.”
After practicing at Baruch College in between games, the team took the short bus trip down to the 9-11 Museum.
“It made everything seem so real,” senior Monique Billings said. “Being on the West Coast, you don’t really see much of it. Seeing vivid pictures of people who went through it was really sad. It makes me appreciate every single day I have that much more. It makes me appreciate what I have and what’s around me.”
Billings said she didn’t know too much about New York before the team came to the area from Dec. 15-21. Her “knowledge” came from watching “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” when she was a kid.
“It was really cool to see it in person. I like the energy,” she said. “The shopping was really fun.”
She almost spent this past summer in New York, working as a fashion intern. That was postponed when she was invited to play in the USA Basketball Under-23 camp that took place at the end of July.
“I hope to do something like that in the future,” Billings said.
For Jordin Canada, the trip to New York was a chance to see family. Her mom grew up in Brooklyn and many of her relatives were at the Bruins’ games against Seton Hall and Fordham, cheering on the point guard and her team. She also got to spend a few extra days in New York for the holidays.
“This past week has been so much fun. I haven’t been here since I was really young,” she said. “I got to stay a little bit extra and see my family.”
About the only thing that Canada didn’t like about the trip to the Tri-State area was the weather.
“I’m a Cali girl, I like the sun,” she said laughing. “This wind and cold, it’s hard to adjust.”
The Bruins didn’t have to do too much adjusting on the court. They beat Seton Hall and Fordham, holding the Rams to 30 points — the fewest points the Bruins have allowed since 1980 — to improve to 9-2 on the season.
“I’m pleased with our team and our defensive energy. There’s still so much we can improve on,” Close said.
Having Japreece Dean playing will be a huge boost. She transferred from Texas Tech last year and saw her first action of the season playing in the two games. She sat out the first nine games because of NCAA transfer rules.
“She’s going to be a huge factor for us because she can shoot the 3,” Close said.
UCLA, which was picked to win the conference, visits Stanford and California to open Pac-12 play this weekend. The Cardinal dropped out of The Associated Press poll for the first time in 17 years on Monday.
“We’ll get an immediate test and then we host the two Oregon schools the week after,” Close said.
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