Atonye Nyingifa (11) and Markel Walker (23), Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
While the UCLA men’s basketball team continues to confuse the country with inconsistency, it’s been smooth sailing for the No. 13/14 UCLA women all year. After compiling a 23-6 record and earning the No. 3 overall seed for the Pac-12 Tournament, the Bruins are in a good position to build some momentum heading into March Madness.
Due to its 14-4 record in conference, UCLA secured itself a first-round bye in the conference tourney, which started this afternoon. The Bruins are set to face sixth-seed Utah tomorrow at 2:30 PM PST after the Utes knocked off 11th-seeded Arizona, 66-48, in the first round earlier today.
UCLA already played Utah (19-12, 9-10 Pac-12) once during the regular season, defeating the Utes by 28-points at Pauley Pavilion in the first week of February. But if the Bruins hope to roll their way into Saturday’s semifinals, they will need to respect Utah and play with it all on the line.
In the previous meeting, UCLA did plenty of work on the offensive end, but the game was really won on defense. The Bruins recorded nine blocks and forced the Utes to commit 18 turnovers en route to the 70-42 victory. UCLA also made certain to keep Utah off the glass, out-rebounding the visitors by a massive 41-23 margin.
Suffice it to say, that is downright dominant. If the Bruins can replicate that effort tomorrow at KeyArena in Seattle, they should be able to advance to the semis where they will face the winner of second-seed California vs. 7th-seeded USC.
While this outcome is highly unlikely, it’s safe to say UCLA is hoping for a Trojan upset. The Bruins hold a 2-0 record against the Women of Troy this season, but are 0-2 against the No. 5 Golden Bears.
In the first regular season contest against Cal, UCLA fought valiantly, eventually falling to the nation’s elite by five points in Berkeley. But in the Los Angeles rematch, the Lady Bears absolutely trounced the Bruins, taking an 18-point lead into the half and winning by a final score of 79-51. Head coach Cori Close will have her work cut out planning for the third go-around, assuming Cal handles ‘SC tomorrow.
Statistically, scoring leader Atonye Nyingifa (11.7 PPG) has been stellar for UCLA this season, as has Markel Walker, a senior guard who leads the Bruins in assists (5.9 APG). But the unheralded hero of this year’s squad is undoubtedly forward Alyssia Brewer, a 6’3″ senior from Tulsa, Okla. who has led the team in rebounding with 7.9 RPG.
Another name to watch for is Kari Korver, the cousin of NBA 3-point specialist Kyle Korver, who now plays for the Atlanta Hawks. Kari shares her cousin’s soft touch, as the freshman ranks third in the Pac-12 in shooting percentage from deep (.356).
If the Bruins can manage to fight through the Utes and Golden Bears/Trojans, a date with No. 4 Stanford (28-2, 17-1 Pac-12) would likely be looming on Sunday in the finals. UCLA is 0-2 against the Cardinal this year, losing by 26 points in Palo Alto and 11 points in Westwood.