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UCLA’s Kiara Jefferson, Kayla Owens to skip basketball season because of coronavirus concerns

UCLA guard Kiara Jefferson drives in the first half against Maryland.
UCLA guard Kiara Jefferson drives in the first half against Maryland on March 25, 2019, in College Park, Md.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

UCLA guards Kiara Jefferson and Kayla Owens will opt out of the upcoming basketball season because of COVID-19 concerns, head coach Cori Close said Wednesday.

With Jefferson and Owens out and two Australian freshmen currently unable to join the team because of pandemic immigration restrictions, the Bruins, who finished second in the Pac-12 last year, are working out with eight players as they prepare for their season in November.

Jefferson, a junior from Sacramento, played in 25 games last year with one start, averaging 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game. Owens, a redshirt junior from Texas, is appreciated by teammates for her affable personality and played in 21 games last year, averaging 9.6 minutes, 1.7 points and 2.5 rebounds.

Everything remains in flux for coach Mick Cronin and UCLA basketball a day after the Pac-12 Conference cleared teams to play as soon as Nov. 25.

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“Both of them wanted to be here,” Close said of Jefferson and Owens. “This was not an issue of I don’t want to or it’s the easy way out. This was the harder decision for them. … We tried to say look, we want to give you everything we’re doing to create the safest environment and ultimately, you need to make the call that you feel best about. So they did that and they have our full support in it.”

Jefferson was hesitant, Close said, in part due to the uncertainty of the virus; even if UCLA’s preventative measures are strong, there was no guarantee everyone else would be up to the same standard, Jefferson told her coach. Athletes opting out this season are guaranteed their scholarships.

Freshmen Gemma Potter and Izzy Anstey are taking a full online course load while in Australia but aren’t allowed to join their team because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Close said UCLA has an immigration attorney working on the case, along with others from different schools, to get international athletes into the country while taking online classes.

Chantel Horvat, a redshirt junior, was able to enter the United States from Australia because she was returning to school. After a weeklong quarantine on campus, she joined her team on the court this week.


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