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Playing all five positions, do-it-all Michaela Onyenwere has UCLA surging late in the season

Colby Gordon
American-Statesman Correspondent
UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere, top, celebrates after scoring a 3-point basket over Wyoming forward Dagny Davidsdottir during the Bruins' win in the first round of the women's NCAA Tournament at the Frank Erwin Center on Monday. Onyewere moved into a tie for fifth place on UCLA’s career scoring list after scoring 25 points in the victory.

Michaela Onyenwere is all about winning.

As she prepares for a second-round matchup with Texas on Wednesday, Onyenwere, UCLA’s star senior forward, is only concerned with taking the Bruins as far as possible.

It didn’t matter that she moved into a tie for fifth place on UCLA’s career scoring list with her 25 points during a 69-48 win over Wyoming in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday at the Frank Erwin Center.

For Onyenwere, any personal success is only thought of as how it benefits the team.

“In my mind she’s one of the top-five players to ever play at UCLA,” Bruins coach Cori Close said. “But the best thing about Michaela is that she couldn’t care less where people rank her or where she stands on the scoring list. I can tell you that she’s not giving it a thought.”

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It’s hard not to notice Onyenwere on the court. She can do everything a coach can dream of, and if there’s a weakness in her game, she sure didn’t show it Monday.

An elite athlete who is long and fast, Onyenwere can match up with guards or posts on defense, and can play all five positions on offense. Against the Cowgirls, she hit turnaround jumpers from the baseline, drilled a 3-pointer, beat the defense for a transition layup, muscled her way inside to baskets when getting the ball inside, handled the ball in transition and was a force on the boards.

If you had to design a basketball player, Onyenwere might be it.

“We tried a couple of different things against her but she made some really good shots,” Wyoming coach Gerald Mattinson said. “She’s a really good player. We tried a lot of things, but she had the answer for everything.”

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A player who was just named third-team All-American by the Associated Press for the second consecutive year, Onyenwere has received about every accolade one could think of. She’s been part of training camp for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team and represented the country at the Pan American Games. And she even continues to wow teammates she’s played with for years.

“She impresses me every single day,” UCLA senior guard Natalie Chou said. “I’ve never met anyone as athletic as her or consistent as her. Off the court, she always checks in on everybody. She’s just an amazing player, athlete and person.”

Wednesday will likely be billed as a showdown between Onyenwere and Texas’ Charli Collier, but whether Onyenwere scores 40 points or one point will be of little concern to her. Because in the end, personal accomplishments aren’t at the forefront.

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Keeping the Bruins winning and being able to keep wearing the Bruins jersey for as long as possible is.

“She’s such an elite teammate,” Close said. “It’s been one of my greatest joys to coach a player at that level of athleticism, work ethic and selflessness. She’s the best at being the total package and always putting the team first and her stats a distant second.”