Michaela Onyenwere’s big game not enough for Bruins

UCLA star forward Michaela Onyenwere dropped 30 points on Stanford in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship game. It didn’t matter because her teammates totaled 25 points against the Cardinal. That wasn’t enough to bring home a Pac-12 Tournament title to Westwood.

As a result, Stanford handily beat UCLA, 75-55, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“I’m a competitor; I want to win,” UCLA coach Cori Close said after the game. “But I’m much more disappointed that we played so below our process and commitment to what we said we were going to do. The lack of urgency, commitment to the game plan, rebounding, I mean, we didn’t do anything in the first half that we said we were going to do. That is the one that really stings. We talk about a lot in our program that you either have the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of pain of regret right now.”

The pain Close and her team may be feeling right now is the lethargic way the Bruins came out to play. Stanford jumped all over UCLA in the first quarter, outscoring the Bruins, 24-11. The second period wasn’t any better for the Bruins. Stanford outscored them in the quarter, 19-9. Just like that, UCLA found itself in a hole that it would not be able to respond to.

UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere plays defense on Stanford’s Kiana Williams. Williams scored 26 points to guide Stanford to a 75-55 Pac-12 Tournament championship win at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo credit: Courtesy photo/Pac-12

“It’s tough, it’s a really tough game for us,” said Onyenwere, who made 12 of 26 shot attempts. “We didn’t come out the way we probably should have. Stanford is a great team. There’s not much room for lapses when you’re going against somebody who is a top, top team. So credit to Stanford.

“They were able to execute what they needed to execute,” Onyenwere added. “We weren’t able to take away their strengths like we knew we could. Moving forward, we’re going to look at this game, yeah, find ways to get better (tearing up). Yeah… We’re going to find ways to get better and move onto the tournament and be better.”

The Bruins don’t have a choice but to respond. If they don’t they will have a quick exit out of the NCAA Tournament. Close said she’s confident her team will take ownership for how they played against Stanford and will bounce back and play with more urgency the next time they step on the court.

“Totally confident,” Close said. “That is the one thing that I have zero doubt about, is that they will respond. We’re going to have to deal with — we talk all the time that events plus response equals outcomes. If you don’t like your outcome, you better change your response. This happened. We can’t do anything about it now. So our choices that we’re going to choose to strengthen our R, our response.”

UCLA (16-5) has five losses on the season. Stanford had a hand in two of those defeats. Back in December, Stanford blitzed UCLA, defeating the Bruins, 61-49. In January, UCLA paid back Stanford, beating the Cardinal, 70-66. In the season tie-breaker, Stanford got out the gate quickly to leave no doubt they were the best team on this day.

UCLA guard Charisma Osborne (20) on the defense against Stanford. Stanford claimed a 75-55 Pac-12 Tournament victory against the Bruins at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Courtesy photo/Pac-12

Kiana Williams, who scored 26 points in the Cardinal win, sounded more than happy that her team was able to avenge one of the two blemishes on their record.

“I’m super excited about how we bounced back from that UCLA loss,”  We were watching film yesterday after that Oregon State game. I was just getting frustrated, little things we didn’t do. I’m glad we fixed them tonight,”

For Close, her challenge is to get the Bruins back on track. That may not be too difficult to do as Close is looking to push, prod, and motivate her team to play with more intensity when they play their next opponent.

“The choice before us is what we do with that pain and how we respond,” Close said. “Those are the choices in front of us. But that’s as disappointing of an opening effort that we’ve had. Stanford, quite frankly, put on a clinic of what it takes to be at a Final Four level. We’re either going to allow that to teach us and call us up to that standard or it’s going to be a quick out in the tournament. Next time we play with that lack of urgency in the first half of an NCAA tournament, I don’t care what round, it will be our last. So we better learn from this real quick.”

Onyenwere agrees with Close in that both believe the Bruins can and will bounce back from such a dismal performance against Cardinal.

“Yeah, 100%. That’s one thing about my team, is when we’re knocked down, we’re not knocked down for too long,” Onyenwere said. “Like I said, we’re going to go back in the film, find ways to get better, because we have a lot of basketball yet to play. I’m super grateful to be on a team of people that I do have that are fighters, that are warriors. This is just a bump in the road, but we still have so much basketball to play.”

Featured image: UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) tries to lock up Stanford’s Kiana Williams with some tight defense in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship game played at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Stanford defeated UCLA, 75-55. Courtesy photo/Pac-12