2014 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament first round: Wilson sisters lead Colorado past UCLA
SEATTLE – It’s been said one of the hardest things to do in all of sports is to beat the same team three times in one season, but the No. 9 seeded Colorado Buffaloes weren’t listening. Their 76-65 win over the No. 8 seed UCLA Bruins on Friday tipped off the 2014 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament at KeyArena in Seattle, and represented the third win for the Buffs over the Bruins this season.
Colorado now moves on to face No. 1 seed Stanford on Friday at noon PT on Pac-12 Networks.
After beating the Bruins twice in the regular season, what did coach Linda Lappe think was the deciding factor in the third meeting? "I think the biggest difference was our guards were ready to score," she said.
The Wilson sisters, Ashley and Brittany, were the spark plugs for the Buffs, attacking the Bruins off the dribble and pushing the pace in transition. They scored the first 12 points of the game for the Buffs and finished with a combined 33 points (16 for Ashley and 17 for Brittany).
The Buffaloes burst out of the gates in the first half, shooting over the top of the Bruins’ zone defense and making three of their first four shots from downtown to jump out to a 15-9 lead a little more than six minutes into the game.
The threes falling was no coincidence, especially for Brittany Wilson. "Me and coach watched film before we left and one thing that she noticed about my shots is that I was tending to fall out of them," Wilson said. "[Lappe] told me there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be 50% from three and to stay in my shot. That’s exactly what I did and they fell."
CU's hot shooting cooled down midway through the first half and the Bruins rallied to take a 22-17 lead with 7:25 left in the opening half.
[Related video: Former CU coach Ceal Barry on Linda Lappe's success in Boulder]
With guard Thea Lemberger missing the game for the Bruins, UCLA looked inside to senior Atonye Nyingifa to carry the offense. She struggled, forcing some tough shots, and finishing the first half a 1-for-10 shooting with just three points. Nyingifa’s rough first half was offset by sophomore Nirra Fields’ fabulous start. Her fearless play led to nine first-half free throws.
Bruins coach Cori Close was effusive in her praise of Fields' game saying, "I think Nirra is one of the most improved players in the conference." Coach Close thinks the 5-foot-9 guard can only get better, too. "She is one of the best athletes I have ever been around, her ability, her strength combined with her quickness and then as her skills and reads happen, catch up to her athleticism, its going to be tough to stop her."
Fields went into the break leading all scorers with 16 points. After UCLA went up five, the teams traded baskets with Colorado managing to tie the score at 29-29.
The second half started off a lot like the first with the Wilson sisters attacking and the Bruins looking to Nyingifa. She hit her first two shots of the second half and UCLA crept out to a 39-36 lead with 16:47 left to play. A three by UCLA’s Madeline Brooks pushed the lead to 42-36, but the Buffs took control from there behind, who else, the Wilson sisters.
Brittany gave the Buffs a 48-46 lead with 11:45 remaining, fighting through contact to bank in a tough shot. A Lexy Kresl three essentially iced the game and put Colorado up by 12 with 2:50 remaining. The Bruins showed their heart and kept chipping away, but couldn’t get closer than 68-62. The Wilson sisters were huge for the Buffs but Kresl’s 14 points were key, as well. Nirra Fields led UCLA with 24 points and Atonye Nyingifa, most likely playing her final game as a Bruin, scored 13 points on 6-for-18 shooting.
The loss was a tough one, understandably, for Close as this team was a special one to her. "If you would have told me I would feel this deeply and be so proud of a team with this record at the beginning of the year I would have told you you were crazy. I didn't want it to end." A chapter has now closed in Bruins history as Nyingifa and Lemberger, both seniors, move on from UCLA.
The Buffs' story is not yet finished but they face a huge test on Friday night against Stanford. The Wilson sisters welcome the challenge. "We don't really look at the name on the jersey. We all have to come out and play 40 minutes and in the end its about who played the 40 minutes the best," said Brittany. Sister Ashley agreed, confidently saying, "We're ready." Colorado played Stanford tough in their one regular season meeting, losing by 10 in Boulder in January. Dethroning the champs will be a tall test that the Buffs seem to be ready for.