(News4usonline) – The UCLA Bruins have competed in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) only one other time before this season. That was back in 2015. The Bruins won all six games they played en route to claiming the title. The Bruins hope they can duplicate that march in this year’s tournament. So far, so good.
Once again, the Bruins look to win the WNIT Tournament for a second time. Friday night at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA got off to a good start on that journey, defeating UC Irvine 61-48 in the first round. The Bruins then used two big quarters in the first half of their game against Air Force to win in the second round, 61-45.
The Bruins now advance to play Wyoming in the third round of the WNIT. If UCLA plays the way it has in the first two games, the Bruins should be fine. They got things going in that first game against UC Irvine. UCLA held a slight 14-13 lead over Irvine at the end of the first quarter.
The Anteaters had six different players get into the scoring column as they tried keeping up with the Bruins.
“Obviously wasn’t the prettiest game for us on the offensive end … But we don’t get a chance to play on Sunday if we weren’t gritty, tough, committed to the defensive end of the floor …” — #CoachCoriClose— UCLA W. Basketball (#UCLAWBB) March 19, 2022
Hear more from Coach Close, #NatalieChou1 and #youngmari23 ?? pic.twitter.com/T6v7MdfG5H
Both teams played to a near toss-up in the first period, but the Bruins came out of the locker room getting it going on the defensive end with four blocked shots in the quarter.
UCLA guard Natalie Chou dominated the entire first half with her shooting from downtown. Chou scored 11 of her team-high 19 points in the first half, all coming from three 3-pointers and a pair of free throws. Thanks to the play of Chou, UCLA took a 28-23 advantage into halftime.
“We had seen a video a couple days ago of the last WNIT team,” Chou said during a postgame press conference. “That team and winning really created momentum for the next couple of years, so we just want to continue that momentum and create that kind of legacy for the next teams.”
UCLA star player Charisma Osborne did not score in the first half, but her presence was felt through hustle and effort play, which helped the Bruins on both the boards and on defense.
Osborne’s smothering defense on UC Irvine’s Kayla Williams resulted in the freshman point guard having a difficult time on the offensive end of the floor. Williams went 1-for-5 from the field and grabbed 5 rebounds in an effort to build the lead.
Osborne seemed content with distributing the ball to her teammates in this one.
UCLA head coach Cori Close said after the game that Osborne “guarded their best player. She’s not playing 100 percent. She just finds a way. We were gonna switch back and forth, but she was just like ‘I got it.’”
Williams came into the game averaging 15.5 points per game for the Anteaters. Just when the Bruins looked like they were pulling away on the scoreboard, Williams connected on a half-court buzzer-beater shot at the end of the third quarter to cut UCLA’s lead to six points.
UC Irvine made it a close game down the stretch, cutting the Bruins; lead to 46-43 with eight minutes left in the final quarter. Williams finished the game with 13 points and four assists for the Anteaters.
Ilmar’I Tomas iced the game late for UCLA with five consecutive made free throws, capped off by a putback and one on the way to 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bruins closed the game out with a 9-0 run over the last 3 minutes and 50 seconds of the fourth quarter in order to advance on to the next round.
“We felt like we were playing our best basketball going into and while we were in the Pac-12 Tournament so we’re really just trying to continue to do that and take care of what we can control and the outcome is gonna be what we want (it to be),” Tomas said.
UCLA will play Air Force on Sunday at Pauley Pavilion for a chance to be one of the final eight teams in the tournament.
Benjamin Verbrugge is a student at CSU Dominguez Hill studying journalism. “Sports have brought me much joy throughout my life, and I want to be able to give a little back to something that has meant so much to me. I grew up in Los Angeles primarily following the Lakers and Dodgers, but I am also an avid fan of sporting events, news, and stories in general.”