Sweet Sixteen is UCLA’s calling card

LOS ANGELES-Well, that was easy. Now comes the hard part for the UCLA women’s basketball team: UConn. The Bruins turned the first and second round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament into a walkthrough clinic of defense, opportune scoring and just overall dominance. 

After dispatching No. 13 Boise State in the first round, the fourth-seeded Bruins didn’t take long to dismantle the No. 5 Aggies, 75-43, to move on to the Sweet Sixteen and a date with UConn.

“Super excited,” UCLA coach Cari Close said. “Obviously, we respect them. They’re a great team. They’ve been through multiple years, but on any given night someone can win. I think we’re going to go there and give it all we can and we have an opportunity to win.”   

UCLA’s Kelli Hayes (23) looks to advance the ball up the court against Texas A & M during the Bruins’ 75-43 win at Pauley Pavilion on Monday, March 20, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

In much the same way the Bruins dominated Boise State, UCLA took over the game right from the start, not giving Texas A & M a chance to know what hit them. Thanks to some long daggers by Kari Korver, by the time the Aggies had time to tie their shoelaces, UCLA had jumped out to a 22-9 lead after the first quarter. 

Korver was the high-point person for the Bruins, scoring 21 points, thank to her excellent shooting from the field (7 of 10).

“I was really pumped up,” Korver said. “It was my last game at Pauley [Pavilion]. I was really excited. My teammates did a real great job of finding me. We’re really an unselfish team.”    

Texas A & M guard Curtyce Knox (11) has her hands full against UCLA defenders in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament at Pauley Pavilion. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

The Bruins ramped up the pressure even more in the second quarter on the Aggies, a team who climbed back from a 17-point, third quarter hole to beat Penn in the first round. Texas A & M outscored Penn 28-9 in fourth quarter to pull out a tight 63-61 win. There would be no such comeback for the Aggies against Bruins. 

The Bruins outscored the Aggies 62-31 through three quarters of play. That’s because when you shoot just 35 percent (18 of 58) from the field as the Aggies did, that usually translate into a disappointing performance. Texas A & M coach Gary Blair, sitting at podium of a press conference after the game with three of his star players-Taylor Cooper, Anriel Howard and Curtyce Knox, spoke on that disappointment.

UCLA’s Nicole Kornet (0) looks for a teammate to pass the ball to against Texas A & M during second round action of the NCAA Women’s Tournament at Pauley Pavilion. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Cooper missed all the shots she attempted from the field (0-4), while Howard misfired on six of her seven field goals (2 points) and Knox made just four of her 11 shots (10 points, two assists). It was not the way the Aggies expected to exit the tournament, Blair said.             

“I’ve got two seniors up here and a junior up here, and they’re hurting,” Blair said. “This is not the way they wanted to leave. UCLA thoroughly outplayed us, just like Penn did for three quarters.”   

What could make UCLA a unique challenge to UConn, even though they are the No. 1 team in the country, is the versatility of the Bruins’ roster and the up and down play of guard Jordin Canada. One game removed from lighting up Boise State with 15 points and 16 assists, Canada came through with another solid outing, scoring 12 points and dishing off 11 assists.

“My teammates, they stepped up and they made shots,” Jordin said. “I thought we did an excellent job of executing in the half court set. We knew they were going to try to pressure us in the second half to get us turning over the ball, but I thought we did a good job of securing it.”            

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