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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1998-99 | UCLA WOMEN

Testing to Come Well Before Finals

November 19, 1998|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The best part about what appears to be UCLA's best women's basketball team since its Ann Meyers and Anita Ortega-led national championship team of 1978 is its schedule.

Southland followers of the women's game already know about UCLA's two certain future pros, point guard Erica Gomez and center Maylana Martin, and two possible future pros, Marie Philman and Melanie Pearson.

But this year they'll get early indications of how they match up against the best, and just how far this deep, talented and experienced team is likely to go in March, at tournament time.

Here's why:

* Dec. 19--at Texas.

* Dec. 21--at Tennessee.

* Dec. 28--Duke at UCLA.

UCLA has opened 0-2 but has already shown its offense is competitive with the best. Against second-ranked Connecticut on Tuesday, the Bruins shot 56% in a 113-102 loss, the highest-scoring women's game at Pauley Pavilion.

Martin, a junior from Perris, Calif., should be a first-round WNBA/ABL draft pick after next season. She was the Pacific 10 Conference's No. 3 scorer, at 18.8 points, and rebounder, at 7.4, as a sophomore . . . all while beset with back pain.

She spent the summer rehabilitating her back and has a new game this season, say her teammate Gomez and coach Kathy Olivier.

"May[lana] is more mature now and she has a sense of command to her game," Olivier said. "She worked hard all summer, didn't play any basketball, and she's much stronger in her upper body. She looks quicker to me too."

Says Gomez, a junior from Keyport, N.J., who, like Martin, is already on some All-American teams, "May[lana] was really hurting toward the end of last season. She's so much stronger now, it gives all of us the kind of confidence we need."

Olivier has three other starters back from a 20-9 team that won 19 of its last 23 and her bench goes clear to the horizon. This team, ranked in the top 10 in nearly every preseason poll, has no seniors.

Junior center Janae Hubbard, 6-4 and 250 pounds, dominated inside at times last season and had 29 points against Connecticut.

Melanie Pearson made 45% of her three-point shots last year. Marie Philman doubled her scoring average, to 10 points.

LaCresha Flannigan and Carly Funicello all played significant minutes last season.

And sophomore Ayesha Rembert, a 6-foot transfer from Marquette, is also on hand.

Two Bruins are lost for the season because of knee operations, junior Takiyah Jackson and freshman Natalie Nakase.

But Olivier is excited about top freshman recruit Michelle Greco, who had seven assists and no turnovers in an exhibition game.

"We're more talented, more mature and May is conducting herself now like a leader," Olivier said.

"We're excited. What we want to do is avoid last year's 0-3 start and show everyone early what we can do."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

UCLA WOMEN At A Glance

SCHEDULE

Nov. 14: Notre Dame 99, UCLA 82

Nov. 17: Connecticut 113, UCLA 102

Sunday: West Virginia, Noon

Dec. 5: CS Fullerton, 4

Dec. 11: at San Diego State, 7

Dec. 19: at Texas, 5

Dec. 21: at Tennessee, 4

Dec. 28: Duke, 7

Dec. 30: Pepperdine, 7

Jan. 2: at Arizona, TBA

Jan. 5: at Arizona State, 6

Jan. 8: Oregon State, 7

Jan. 10: Oregon, Noon

Jan. 14: at California, 7:30

Jan. 16: at Stanford, 7:30

Jan. 23: USC, 7

Jan. 28: Washington, 7

Jan. 30: Washington State, 4

Feb. 4: at Oregon, 7

Feb. 6: at Oregon State, 7

Feb. 12: Stanford, 7

Feb. 14: California, 2

Feb. 20: at USC, 7

Feb. 25: at Washington State, 7

Feb. 27: at Washington, 7

Mar. 4: Arizona State, 7

Mar. 6 : Arizona, 1

ROSTER

* Guards

Erica Gomez, 5-9, Jr.

Michelle Greco, 5-9, Fr.

LaCresha Flannigan, 5-7, So.

Natalie Nakase, 5-2, Fr.

* Forwards

Maylana Martin, 6-3, Jr.

Marie Philman, 6-0, Jr.

Melanie Pierson, 6-1, Jr.

Ayesah Rembert, 6-0, So.

Takiyah Jackson, 6-1, Jr.

* Centers

Janae Hubbard, 6-4, Jr.

Carly Funicello, 6-4, Jr.

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