Bruins deny Eagles with hot shooting

LOS ANGELES, CA-One of the more surprising numbers to come away from the NCAA Women’s Tournament first round matchup between UCLA and American University was the fact that the Eagles had outrebounded the Bruins on their homecourt of Pauley Pavilion. The pesky Eagles held a 36-33 rebounding advantage over the Bruins.

But UCLA, thanks to a fast start and a hot-hand from long distance, managed to pull off a 71-60 win to move on to next round action against Creighton. The double-digit victory for the Bruins was far from being a walk in the park, although it looked like it would be after UCLA outran American to a 27-12 lead after the first quarter.

UCLA forward Monique Billings (25) scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a win against American University during NCAA Women’s Tournament first round action on Saturday, March 17, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

UCLA forward Monique Billings, who put up a team-high 20 points, nearly matched the Eagles’ scoring output for the period, tallying 10 points herself in the frenetic opening quarter. After its hot start, based on the strength of shooting 50 percent from the field, UCLA’s shooting touch cooled down considerably in the second quarter.

The Bruins connected on just four of the 13 shots they attempted from the field in the quarter to score just 11 points in the period. UCLA’s 30 percent field goal shooting didn’t seem to hurt the Bruins going into halftime. Despite its poor shooting in the second quarter, UCLA still maintained a healthy 38-25 lead.

Things got a bit antsy in the third quarter for the Bruins when American forward Cecily Carl began to flex her muscles to the tune of scoring 12 points in the period. Carl’s scoring outburst revved up the engine for the Eagles as they ran up 23 points in the quarter.

UCLA guard Kennedy Burke (22) tries to keep American University player Kaitlyn Lewis (3) from driving to the basket during the first round of NCAA Women’s Tournament play at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, March 17, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

American outscored UCLA 23-19 in the period, eventually closing the scoring gap to four points (45-41) with little over four minutes to play in the quarter. But then a timely 3-point shot from Japreece Dean, a layup by Billings and a 3-pointer from Kennedy Burke, quickly restored order for the Bruins as UCLA re-upped its advantage to double-figures (54-43) in little over two minutes.

The Bruins carried a nine-point lead (57-48) into the fourth quarter. Despite only scoring 14 points in the final period, UCLA put the defensive clamps on Carl and her teammates, holding American to 12 points. Carl, who scored a game-high 22 points and equaled Billings in game rebounding honors with 10, was held to five points in the fourth quarter.

UCLA guard Kennedy Burke (22) looks for a teammate to pass the ball to against American University. The Bruins defeated the Eagles in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament by the score of 70-61 on Saturday, March 17, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

The win was a climb-back victory for the Bruins after its Pac-12 Conference Tournament semifinal defeat to the Oregon Ducks. At times, the Bruins showed their worthiness of being the No. 9 team in the country. The first quarter was a prime example of the Bruins’ potential prowess during their run in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.

UCLA’s uneven play in the second and fourth periods, however, also highlights that the Bruins can’t afford to take their pedal off of the medal, regardless of an opponent seeding. American came into this game as the No. 14 seed. UCLA is the No.3 seed in the Kansas City (or West) bracket.

Yet the Eagles gave the Bruins everything they could handle, particularly in the low-post department. UCLA’s ability to connect from downtown (53 percent) and make free throws was the difference in this game. The Bruins, with more shot attempts, made 78 percent of their free throws. American could only connect on 38 percent of its attempts from the charity line.

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