Bruins do their Sweet 16 dance

UCLA uses stingy defense, rebounding and opportune scoring to beat Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Women's Tournament

Michaela Onyenwere (21) snatches a rebound during UCLA's 86-64 win against Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Women's Tournament. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

LOS ANGELES, CA-This time there wouldn’t be any chance for a potential upset for their opponent to contemplate. There would be no anticipation of victory coming from the visiting team. And forget about even being in a competitive game. All that got squashed Monday evening.

UCLA’s women’s basketball team stepped on the gas in their second round NCAA Tournament game against Creighton and rolled past the Bluejays on their way to a Sweet 16 date against Texas after recording a runaway 86-64 win at Pauley Pavilion.

“I’m just so proud of our players,” UCLA coach Cori Close said after the game. “We’ve talked a lot about sustaining our focus and out identity for 40 minutes and not only did we do that, but we did that against a very good team. Creighton is a really well-coached team, and they’re a difficult matchup for us. The reason this gives us great momentum and the reason that I’m so proud of our team is because we really respect Creighton. We give them a lot of credit for the way that they compete.”

Forward Monique Billings (25) led UCLA with nine rebounds in the Bruins’ 86-64 win against Creighton at Pauley Pavilion on Monday, March 19, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

Unlike their first-round encounter against American University, where they allowed the Eagles to hang around until the end of the game, the Bruins sent the Bluejays an early message stating that kind of thing wouldn’t be happening again.

Before they could blink, the Bluejays found themselves down by 11 (26-15) by the end of the first quarter. Another hiccup in the second period by Creighton allowed UCLA to rack up 49 points and cruise to a 14- point lead by halftime. What a difference a game makes. Against American, UCLA played a bit sluggish at times.

The Bruins didn’t have that problem against Creighton.

“Well, I think the players deserve all the credit,” Close said. “One of the things that we talk about and say at the start of everyday is to choose. You have to choose every day. Just because you chose yesterday doesn’t mean that you don’t have to choose again today. And I think we all felt poorly about our energy and our consistent focus on Saturday and in practice yesterday. They were the ones driving that message.”

UCLA guard Jordin Canada (3) scored 21 points in leading the Bruins to a 86-64 win against Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

The Bruins blitzed the Bluejays all night with a relentless full-court press and came away with 29 points off turnovers. Creighton could only muster seven points in that same category. UCLA forced Creighton into committing 18 miscues for the game. Advantage: Bruins.

“Well the last game on Saturday, we didn’t come out with a lot of energy and American (University) was able to go on their run in the start,” senior guard Jordin Canada said. “And we know tonight we had to play to our potential and play the way we play and dictate on the defensive end. We knew there were some upsets before we played, and we thought, ‘that’s not going to be us.’ We’re going to come out aggressive and come out hard. Creighton’s a very great team, so we knew they were going to try to punch, but we had to punch first and make sure we were punching often. We wanted to be aggressive and play to our identity.”

That identity was reflected in UCLA’s all-around play. The Bruins rebounded well. They got after it on the defensive end with high-level intensity. Canada was out leading the fastbreak whenever the opportunity arose. UCLA won in the low post area because forward Monique Billings was handling her business, leading the team in rebounding with nine.

Kennedy Burke (22) battles for a rebound during UCLA’s 86-64 win against Creighton in NCAA Women’s Tournament action at Pauley Pavilion. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

Because of Billings’ aggressive inside play, UCLA (26-7) outscored Creighton (19-13) in the paint, 25-16. The Bruins also outrebounded the Bluejays by a margin of 37-27. Another on-court victory for the Bruins was having to play a team it defeated earlier this season. In November, the Bruins came away with a 72-63 win against the Bluejays. Playing a team multiple times during a season has its advantages and disadvantages.

Familiarity is one such advantage the Bruins had. The downside to have already beaten Creighton, UCLA would be facing a team looking to revenge its early season loss. Whatever upset thoughts the Bluejays had in mind, they were quickly dismissed once the flow of the game got underway. Creighton’s first and only lead came on a 3-point shot to open the game by Audrey Faber (20 points). The Bruins then went on a 10-0 run and never looked back.

With Creighton double-teaming Billings, UCLA used scoring distribution by committee as a way to solve the Bluejays’ defense. It worked. Canada led five Bruins in double-figures, scoring a team-high 21 points. One of those five players, Japreece Dean, had an exceptional evening, scoring 16 points in her 29 minutes of action.

“I think that we just had fun,” Dean said. “We had a lot of energy from the bench and from people on the court. It looked like everybody was having fun out there. And that helps out a lot.”

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1236 Articles
Dennis is a longtime sports, news and entertainment photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on subjects such as civil rights, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in various publications across the country. As editor and publisher of News4usonline, he currently covers the NFL (Rams, Chargers), NBA (Clippers, Lakers), Major League Baseball (Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). Dennis is a proud alum of Howard University.