As the 2023 WNBA postseason tips off tonight, a group of former UCLA Bruins greats are set to play pivotal roles in this year’s championship race. This postseason promises to be packed with a substantial Bruins presence, with familiar faces making waves in various capacities.
Monique Billings, a former All-Pac-12 Team power forward and a standout alumna of UCLA, is the sole ex-Bruin actively competing in the playoffs. Standing tall at 6’3″ and hailing from Riverside, she’s representing the Atlanta Dream. The Dream, despite being the fifth-seeded underdog with a regular-season record of 19-21, will take on the fourth-seeded Dallas Wings, who finished the season at 22-18. Basketball enthusiasts can catch this exciting matchup on Friday at 6:30 p.m. PT, with the game broadcasted on ESPN 2. Billings, in her sixth professional season at the age of 27, has averaged 4.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 0.8 assists across 39 games, primarily coming off the bench for Atlanta.
Another former UCLA star, Rebekah Gardner, who serves as a key reserve wing for the Chicago Sky, had her season cut short due to a foot injury in June. Despite this setback, Gardner’s team managed to secure a playoff berth as the eighth seed. However, they face a daunting challenge in the form of the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces in their first-round matchup. The playoff showdown is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. PT, tonight, and will be broadcasted on ESPN. Notably, the Aces enter the game as strong favorites with a staggering -16.5-point spread.
Not only are former Bruins making waves on the court, but the Las Vegas Aces themselves boast a significant UCLA connection. Natalie Jean Williams, a former Pac-10 Player of the Year and a four-time WNBA All-Star during her time with the Utah Starzz and Indiana Fever, now holds the position of General Manager for the Aces. Adding to this Bruins reunion, Natalie Nakase, an ex-UCLA point guard, is serving as an assistant coach on the staff led by head coach Becky Hammon. Williams and Nakase were part of the Aces’ coaching staff when the franchise clinched its historic first-ever title last year.
As the WNBA playoffs unfold, the legacy of UCLA Bruins in women’s basketball continues to shine brightly, with former stars taking center stage in a variety of roles. Be sure to stay tuned for more thrilling action and see how these Bruins make their mark on the 2023 postseason.