UCLA Women’s Hoops: Bruins End Strong Season With Short Stay in NCAA Tourney

Aaryn Ellenberg (3) drives against Mariah Williams (14), Credit: US Presswire

The UCLA women’s basketball team followed in the footsteps of the Bruin men, making an early exit from the NCAA Tournament after a successful 2013 campaign.

UCLA (26-8) fell to Oklahoma, 85-72, in the second round of the Big Dance despite five Bruins scoring in double figures. Star scorer Atonye Nyingifa chipped in 18 points to go with eight rebounds, while point guard Markel Walker notched 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

The Bruins, who defeated Oklahoma in Norman during the regular season, were only down by five points at the half. Unfortunately, the Sooners came out of the locker room on a mission, going up by as many as 13 points and never sweating the rest of the way.

What really killed the Bruins in the rematch with OU was porous defense and a propensity for turnovers. As a team, UCLA forfeited possession 14 times, compared to only seven for the Sooners. Walker committed eight turnovers on her own (and also fouled out), which prevented the Bruins from developing any kind of offensive rhythm in the game.

Defensively, UCLA was getting burned time and again, allowing Oklahoma to shoot over 40 percent from the field, including 11-of-27 from three-point land. Every time the Bruins chopped the deficit to single digits, the Sooners answered back with a big time bucket. Junior guard Aaryn Ellenberg led the charge for OU, posting a 27-point performance that featured an astounding 6-of-13 mark from behind the arc. And if it wasn’t Ellenberg, Joanna McFarland was there to pick up the slack. The senior forward recorded a double-double in the win, ending the night with 20 points and 16 rebounds to her credit.

To put it simply, the Sooners survived a back-and-forth first half, only to run away from the favored Bruins in the second half. Ellenberg, McFarland and the rest of the OU players proved too much for UCLA, and it brought an end to an otherwise exciting 2013 season for the women of Westwood.

Head coach Cori Close was quick to point out the accomplishments of the team this year, instead of focusing on what went wrong on the court in Columbus. And considering the fact that the Bruins will lose four starters to graduation, it was a very emotional time for everyone involved with the program. Coach Close had this to say of her squad and their progress throughout the season.

The last thing I told our team, I said, ‘You have to understand that this group of seniors has brought the program to a new level. They persevered through a lot and there’s only one way to honor them. And that’s to take the baton and go to a new level.’ They blazed an incredible trail.

Jasmine Dixon (33), Credit: US Presswire

In addition to Walker, UCLA will bid adieu to Mariah Williams, Jasmine Dixon and leading rebounder Alyssia Brewer. These seniors took a program that hadn’t made March Madness since 2006 and built a legitimate contender in the highly-competitive Pac-12 Conference. Not only did the Bruins go dancing in three of their four seasons, but they managed to win their first game in each of those appearances.

The veteran cast also led UCLA to the Pac-12 Tournament final in three seasons, falling to Stanford each time (though this year’s loss came down to the last shot). Now, as they prepare to end their undergraduate careers, the Bruins have been left with a national ranking and relevancy—something that UCLA couldn’t say a mere four years ago.

But now Close and the remaining Bruins are left with a steep hill to climb as they attempt to replicate the success of the past few years without the seniors’ familiar faces on the floor. It will be a challenge, and there’s no guarantee that the upward trend will maintain its trajectory going forward. But either way, an enormous debt of gratitude is owed to the departing Bruins for all that they did to bring UCLA women’s basketball back into the conversation.

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