Cori Close read it off her smartphone. It was the news she knew was coming, but there was still shock in her voice when she saw it spelled out.
“The NCAA tournament is canceled,” the UCLA women’s basketball coach read Thursday as the NCAA announced the cancellation of its remaining winter and spring championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments scheduled later this month.
A staff member poked her head into Close’s office. “I know,” the coach simply responded.
Close spent 40 extra minutes after pratice Thursday morning prepping her team for the inevitable news as concern for the coronavirus grew, but seeing the official announcement made Close’s face flush with disappointment. Her immediate thought was of redshirt senior Japreece Dean. Thursday was the point guard’s last practice.
“Dang it,” Close said as realization sets in.
The announcement Thursday put a premature end to No. 10 UCLA’s season that included an historic 16-game winning streak to start the season. The Bruins (26-5) were one win from tying the second-highest total in school history and tying the most wins for a season under Close.
The Bruins, who were tied for second in the Pac-12 with a 14-4 conference record, had their best finish in the Pac-12 since 2010-11 and advanced to their fifth straight Pac-12 tournament semifinal. They lost 67-51 to Stanford on March 7.
Hoping to continue their four-year streak of Sweet 16 appearances and challenge for the school’s third Elite Eight appearance and first Final Four, the Bruins are left to navigate through “unchartered territory,” Close said. When meeting with the team Thursday, she told them it was OK to be disappointed, and it was OK to be angry. But the pandemic is no one’s fault. It’s not fair. Now it’s all about how they respond.
“That’s what a growth mind-set says: I’m going to use whatever unfair circumstances happen as an opportunity to learn and grow,” Close said of her message to the team.
With ambitions to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament next week, Close was set to give her team several days off to “recharge” before returning on Sunday to begin finals, which are all to be administered remotely, per the university’s precautions.
After practice Thursday, Close asked her players what it would look like for each of them to have joy and recharge individually and what it would look like as a team. She didn’t tell them she was planning a back-up situation in which she needed to use their suggestions in lieu of the team’s ultimate goal of finishing the season with the NCAA tournament run.
“Let’s find a way to create some different kind of memories together,” Close said. “It’s not the memories that we would like to create, but we’re still going to create some nonetheless.”