NCAAW: Leading reloaded UCLA, Charisma Osborne building WNBA draft case

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The UCLA Bruins are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2021-22 season, one low-lighted by a slew of injuries, inconsistent defense and a failure to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Head coach Cori Close described it as the hardest season of her career, and, entering the 2022-23 season, is preaching to her team to “learn from every circumstance.”

So far, so good. Led by senior guard Charisma Osborne, the Bruins are off to a 5-0 start, most recently upsetting the No. 11 Tennessee Lady Vols and building their case to reenter the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.

The 5-foot-9 Osborne has made a name for herself in the Pac-12 as one of UCLA’s steadiest players in recent years, especially during the turbulence of the program’s prior season. While Osborne’s adjacency to former Bruin Jordin Canada may have initially put her on the map to college basketball fans (both players attended Windward School in Los Angeles), she quickly carved out a niche all her own, drawing public praise from Close for her three-level scoring and on-ball defense as early as her freshman season.

Now a senior, it’s up to Osborne to lead the Bruins back to contention in the highly-competitive Pac-12. If UCLA’s early-season success is to be believed, the Bruins will be right back in the thick of it this season, while Osborne herself has plenty to gain from leading a rejuvenated program — particularly as WNBA coaches and general managers rank collegiate guards on their draft boards.

Honors and statistics

Osborne was ranked by ESPN Hoop Gurlz as the No. 22 overall recruit in the class of 2019 and No. 5 among point guards. She was named a McDonald’s All-American as a senior in high school, as well as an All-American honorable mention by MaxPreps and the WBCA.

Osborne was named a starter at UCLA as a freshman and played alongside future WNBA draftees Michaela Onyenwere and Japreece Dean, averaging 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game and earning Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors. Upon Dean’s graduation in 2020, Osborne became UCLA’s go-to guard, leading the team in both scoring (16.6 points) and assists (3.8) as a sophomore and a junior; she was named to the All-Pac-12 Team both seasons and also earned Pac-12 All-Defense honors as a sophomore.

Internationally, Osborne won a gold medal as a member of Team USA in the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, starring alongside other big-name players such as Aliyah Boston, Paige Bueckers, Azzi Fudd and Cameron Brink. Most recently, she participated in trials for Team USA prior to the 2019 U19 World Cup.

Osborne’s scoring taking off as a senior

Osborne has gotten off to a terrific start to her senior season, particularly when it comes to her 2-point scoring efficiency.
Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Osborne’s statistics during her first three seasons at UCLA reflect a significant role change from secondary and tertiary offensive option as a freshman to primary scorer and shot creator as a sophomore and junior, and while there’s still been a lot on her plate during her senior campaign, she’s poised to have her best season yet — one that could vault her into early first-round draft discussion next spring.

Though it’s still quite early in the 2022-23 NCAA season (four games, to be exact), Osborne is posting career highs in several statistical categories. Per Her Hoop Stats, she’s averaging 22.4 points per game on 50.6 percent shooting from the field, including a superb 63 percent from 2-point range; the scoring efficiency, in particular, has seen a major increase from Osborne’s previous two seasons, when she hit 37.8 percent and 38.6 percent, respectively.

The massive jump in Osborne’s scoring efficiency could be attributed to a small sample size and a relatively low level of competition, but there’s another important factor in play: the additions of Kiki Rice and Gina Conti. Rice, the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2022, and Conti, who led Wake Forest in assist rate for three consecutive seasons before transferring to UCLA (and who missed the entirety of the 2021-22 season with a foot injury), have given the Bruins a one-two punch at point guard and a level of depth they haven’t had at the position in many years.

Having two dedicated ball handlers has allowed UCLA to move Osborne off the basketball and have her operate in more space than in previous seasons, and the early returns of this strategy have been encouraging, to say the least. In a recent 29-point performance against Troy, Osborne scored in a multitude of ways — fast break layups, dribble mid-range jumpers, spot-up 3-pointers and even from the high post in a horns set — and did so with a level of ease that was hard to come by last season.

Highlights: Charisma Osborne scores 29 points vs. Troy

Again, it’s unrealistic to expect Osborne to shoot this well for the entirety of her senior season (though one could argue that her 3-point shooting is due for an increase; she’s been hovering around 33 percent on long balls for her career, but more frequent catch-and-shoot opportunities could help raise that number), but the context of her early-season performance will give WNBA coaches and general managers something to consider on draft day. We’ve seen Osborne drag lesser UCLA teams to relevance at the expense of some of her own statistics, which may have undersold just how good of a player she is. She’s now showing what she can do in a stronger offensive ecosystem that emphasizes dribbling and passing; Osborne has been deep in her scoring bag thus far as a senior, and if she can continue showing her playmaking chops from time to time as the season drags on, she’ll make quite a name for herself in a draft class that will be searching for guards worthy of being selected in the first round.

Watch her play

The Bruins don’t have many nationally-televised games on their schedule this season, with a Feb. 20 game against the Stanford Cardinal (ESPN2) being their only opportunity for a national audience. The Bruins have gone 2-4 against the Cardinal during Osborne’s collegiate career; she most recently recorded 12 points and two steals against them back on Feb. 3, 2022. UCLA will probably need more from her this time around.

The Bruins will also take on the defending champion South Carolina Gamecocks on Nov. 29 in a game that is — for now — slated to be broadcast on the SEC Network. The Gamecocks’ fearsome interior defense will be a good challenge for Osborne, as will her individual matchup against fellow 2023 draft class member Zia Cooke.

All statistics and team records for the 2022-23 NCAA season are current through Nov. 20, 2022.

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