UCLA tops Arizona, earns date with Stanford at Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament
SEATTLE – No upsets yet in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Sixth-seeded UCLA used a balanced scoring attack and a disciplined 2-3 zone defense to easily dispatch 11th-seeded Arizona, 80-62, in the second game of Thursday’s first round at KeyArena.
With the win, the Bruins advance to play Stanford at 2 p.m. PT Friday in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals on Pac-12 Networks and Pac-12 Now. During the regular season, UCLA lost both conference games to the Cardinal.
But the Bruins could be a tough out after Thursday’s win over the Wildcats. By halftime, UCLA (13-17, 8-10 Pac-12) had built a 37-24 lead by holding Arizona (10-20, 3-15 Pac-12) to 29.6 percent shooting and 0-for-5 from the three-point range over the first 20 minutes.
“I think our zone has been our best defense most of the year,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “They’ve struggled to stretch that zone out, Arizona has, and make enough threes to really pull us out of that… our defense was definitely our anchor.”
Arizona coach Niya Butts credited UCLA for shutting them down offensively after entering the tournament with a game plan she felt could exploit the 2-3 by attacking gaps.
“Oh boy, it slowed us down a little bit,” she said. “We missed shots, but we got a lot of rebounds. We just didn’t capitalize on those rebounds like we should have.”
UCLA freshman wing Kelli Hayes was a factor on the offensive end, coming off the bench to go 4-for-4 and lead the Bruins at the break with nine points.
The second half was more of the same, as UCLA came out and quickly reeled off an 8-2 run, capped when guard Jordin Canada found forward Monique Billings for a transition lay-up to open up an insurmountable 45-26 advantage with 17:26 left.
Getting out and running was key for UCLA, which outscored the Wildcats 12-4 in transition.
“It’s who we are. It’s when we play best,” Close said. “I was actually disappointed we couldn’t do it more because we didn’t rebound well enough. If we had rebounded better on the defensive end of the floor, I thought we could have gotten more transition opportunities… every time we controlled a long rebound we got run-out transition buckets.”
Meanwhile, all-Pac-12 selection Nirra Fields poured in 17 of her 21 points in the second half, leading all scorers. Billings chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds. Canada, the conference’s freshman of the year, was the other Bruin to reach double figures, notching 10 points, nine assists and four steals. UCLA finished shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 6-of-15 from three (40 percent), while outscoring Arizona 34-20 in the paint.
“I thought our first half, our bench scoring and our bench punch rebounding was the difference in the game,” Close said. “It’s when the momentum turned in our favor.”
Two of those threes came in the opening minutes from senior guard Madeline Poteet, who helped UCLA jump to a 12-7 lead. From there, coach Cori Close’s squad cruised to its third win in its last four games. The Bruins took advantage of their depth throughout, with 12 players seeing action and 10 registering points. UCLA’s bench outscored Arizona’s 34-17.
The Bruins’ hopes of rebounding from a difficult season in which they played the toughest non-conference schedule in the country are still alive.
“We don’t want to have any regrets,” Hayes said. “We’ve had a lot in the past from preseason to Pac-12. We wanted to just go all out because all we have is one loss and we’re out.”
Arizona guard Candice Warthen led the Wildcats with 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting on an afternoon the entire team struggled offensively. Arizona made just 20-of-58 shot attempts (34.5 percent).
“We’re all obviously disappointed in this last game,” Butts said. “But I told them not to focus on the negatives… I want them to know that life is about ups and downs and that you need to have perspective.”