It was a pretty damn good weekend for three of UCLA's sports programs this weekend.
With wins over Hawai'i and the University of South Florida, the UCLA Women's Basketball team advances to the Sweet 16. The UCLA Women's Gymnastics team are PAC 12 Champions for the seventeenth time! And the UCLA Baseball team swept the Washington State Cougars, raising its record to 11-7, 3-0 in PAC 12 play.
Let's look a little closer at these accomplishments in today's Bruin Bites.
UCLA Women's Basketball
The UCLA Women's Basketball team, the #3 seed in the Bridgeport Region, has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for only the fourth time in the program's history, and for the first time this millennium. UCLA's last foray into the Sweet Sixteen occurred in the 1998-1999 season, when the Bruins made the Elite Eight, the furthest any UCLA Women's Basketball team has gone in March Madness.
UCLA first beat the Hawai'i Rainbow Wahine, 66-50, on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins played outstanding defense, limiting Hawai'i to 20% shooting from the field. Nikki Fields led UCLA in points (16) and rebounds (8). Freshman Kennedy Burke also played very well off the bench, with 15 points and 5 rebounds on six of seven from the field.
UCLA's victory earned them a Sunday date with #6 seed USF. UCLA got out to a 40-24 halftime lead, but the Bulls chipped away in the third quarter, cutting the lead to three points on several occasions, including at the conclusion of the third quarter, with UCLA hanging on, 50-47.
With a little more than eight minutes left to play, USF's Courtney Williams (29 points, 9 rebounds) made a jumper to cut UCLA's lead to one, 52-51. UCLA's Jordan Canada (19 points, 7 rebounds) answered with two jumpers of her own, and, at the six-minute TV timeout, UCLA had a five-point cushion, 58-53.
USF was not done, cutting the lead to one again, 61-60, on a Courtney Williams layup with 4:47 to go. That was as close as the Bulls would get, although Williams made things interesting with a three pointer with :23 remaining, to cut UCLA's lead to two, 67-65. At that point, South Florida was forced to foul, and UCLA made five of six free throws down the stretch to ice the game, 72-67.
UCLA travels from the friendly confines of Pauley to Bridgeport, Connecticut to face the #2 seed Texas Longhorns on Saturday, March 26th at 10:30 a.m. PT. The winner of that game will likely face undefeated and top-seeded UConn, in Bridgeport, unless #5 seeded Mississippi State can somehow solve the Huskies.
Go Bruins, beat the 'Horns!
The PAC 12 Women's Gymnastics Championship took place last weekend in Seattle, Washington. Although UCLA came into the competition as the #2 seed to Utah's #1 seed, the Bruins' total team effort was enough to push UCLA to the top of the PAC 12, earning a score of 197.250. Oregon State and Utah tied for second place, each earning a 196.925.
UCLA won the PAC 12 title for the seventeenth time in school history.
Eight different Bruins recorded scores of 9.90 or better. UCLA won two team event titles on the uneven bars and the balance beam. UCLA performance on the beam--49.575--was the sixth best in UCLA history. That performance, in the third rotation of the competition, also allowed UCLA to pull away a bit from the field, giving them a cushion going into the floor exercise.
Congratulations to the Bruins on this achievement!
The Bruins advance--along with six other PAC 12 schools--to the NCAA Regionals. UCLA is slotted as the #2 seed in the Salt Lake City Regional, which will take place on April 2nd. Utah is the #1 seed in the SLC Regional, which also features Washington, Southern Utah, Illinois, and Utah State. UCLA will need to place in the top two of those six schools to move on to the championship finals, featuring twelve schools, on April 15th and 16th, in Fort Worth, Texas.
The UCLA Baseball team, which has had some issues in non-conference play this season, had no such issues in the first weekend of PAC 12 play at home against Washington State. After riding the arm of Griffin Canning to a 5-2 win on Friday, getting a walk-off RBI single from Brett Stephens to win, 6-5, in extra innings on Saturday, the Bruins pounded the Cougars on Sunday, 11-2, to complete the series sweep. UCLA is tied for first in the PAC 12 with Oregon State.
Freshman, Kyle Molnar, who has been the Bruins' Sunday starter all season and has been improving in each start, was superb. Molnar went seven innings, giving up just two runs, and striking out 11. Amazingly, Molnar fanned eight in a row, striking out the side in both the 5th and 6th innings, and striking out the first two batters in the 7th, before inducing a ground out to end the inning and his work for the day. Moises Ceja pitched a scoreless 8th and 9th innings.
Although Molnar was excellent, the same cannot be said about WSU's freshman starter, Parker McFadden, who gave up two hits, five walks, two wild pitches, two hit batters and seven runs (six earned) in two innings of work. UCLA fans can relate, as the Bruins have gotten some similar outings from some of its young pitchers this season.
After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the first inning, UCLA struck back with three runs of its own on two hits, two walks, and two wild pitches (each of which allowed a runner to score from third). After the Bruins added another in the bottom of the 2nd and Wazzou answered with a run of its own in the top of the third, UCLA pushed across three more runs in the bottom half of the frame, chasing McFadden, on two HBPs, a walk, an error, and a steal of home. UCLA did not record a hit in the third. The Bruins tacked on three more runs in the 4th inning, on Eric Filia's three run home run to right field, pushing the lead to 10-2. Molnar took over from there.
The Bruins do not have a midweek game this week, and travel to Tuscon for a tough three game series against the Arizona Wildcats (13-6; 1-2 PAC 12) beginning on Thursday.
That's it for today's Bruin Bites. Let us know if you have any thoughts in the comment section.