- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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The commitment of Nirra Fields, the No. 11-ranked prospect in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100, to UCLA certainly put notice out to the rest of the Pac-12 that elite talent will continue to populate the Bruins' roster under Cori Close. Fields is an explosive athlete who can score and score some more.
Before Fields' verbal, Close secured commitments from a pair of top 100 guards -- No. 65 Lauren Holiday of Chatsworth, Calif., a 5-foot-8 senior at Campbell Hall (North Hollywood, Calif.) and No. 98 Kari Korver of Paramount, Calif., a 5-9 senior at Valley Christian (Roseville, Calif.).
The addition of Fields the day before the early signing period, Nov. 9-16, gives UCLA a trio of perimeter players to help replace the 2011 graduating class, which included two key guards, Darxia Morris and Doreena Campbell.
Holiday brings a lot of what Morris brought to the defensive end of the floor while Korver is a highly regarded shooter who can rip the nets like UCLA fans loved to see Campbell do. With Fields in the mix and her ability to create off the dribble, you have plenty of talent on the perimeter.
But UCLA has a tradition of strong perimeter play. Who can forget the three standouts from the Bruins' 2004-2006 seasons? Noelle Quinn was the fourth pick in 2007 WNBA Draft, Lisa Willis was the fifth pick in 2006 and Nikki Blue was a second-rounder in 2006.
But the crux of that team, coached by Kathy Olivier, who is now the head coach at UNLV, was the lack of depth on the interior. Close finds herself in a similar predicament.
UCLA's roster for this season and the projected roster for next season with the three 2012 recruits has an average height of just over 5-feet-10 inches. The team will have nine guards on its roster for the 2012-13 season.
The Bruins will return a pair of red-shirt seniors to the frontcourt, Jasmine Dixon, a 6-0 forward who will miss this season recovering from an Achilles injury, and Antonye Nyingifa, a 5-11 forward who missed the 2009-10 season recovering from a knee injury. UCLA also will return Corinne Costa, a 6-4 post, for her junior season and Kacy Swain, a 6-3 forward, for her sophomore season, and add Tennessee transfer Alyssia Brewer, a 6-3 forward, who will have one year of eligibility.
The bottom line is that everyone in the conference is chasing Stanford, which has six players standing 6-3 or taller this season. Colorado, Oregon and USC have five players 6-2 or taller while Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Utah, Washington have four, and Oregon State and Washington State have three.
The depth in the paint was an issue for Nikki Caldwell, the coach who replaced Olivier and who left UCLA to take over at Louisiana State this spring. Caldwell and her staff had a 2011 class that would have added the talent and size the program needed to go from competitive to a Final Four threat. But as is the case with most coaching changes, some recruits or players decided to transfer.
The Bruins lost 6-2 post Justine Hartman to Cal and 6-2 forward Sheila Boykin decided to follow Caldwell to LSU. Nobody can fault Close for the situation; it just comes with the territory. The program went after interior players such as Alyson Beebe (Stanford), Katie Collier (Washington), Katie Heckman (Duke) and Jackie Johnson (Minnesota), but the 2012 class lacks the depth of post players that can elevate the UCLA program to the next level.
So the heat is on to either find a junior-college or international player to add this spring to the 2012 class or hone in on the bigs in the 2013 class with targets such as Kendall Cooper, Erica McCall, Kristina Nelson and Taya Reimer, who all have some early interest in UCLA.
If that post play comes together, then this wealth of perimeter talent will have its sights on chopping down the big Cardinal tree.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.