Pac-12 Tournament Semifinals
#12 UCLA Women's Basketball (23-7, 14-4)
Opponent: California (15-16, 4-14)
When: 6:00 PM PST, Saturday, March 5, 2016
Where: KeyArena, Seattle, WA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: Pac-12 StatBroadcast
The 2016 Pac-12 Tournament has featured plenty of upsets so far, but the Bruins are not one of the victims. UCLA advanced to today's first semifinal by thumping the Wildcats 72-51 yesterday afternoon.
If you expected the Bruins' semifinal opponent to be the Sun Devils, join the club. I thought that Arizona State (16-2 in conference play) would easily handle California (4-14) to set up a second meeting between the Bruins and the Sun Devils in less than a week.
But as I said, the 2016 Pac-12 Tournament has been full of surprises. Arizona State is out. Stanford is out too, a loser to the Huskies, who are taking full advantage of playing at home. That puts UCLA on a collision course with No. 1 seed Oregon State for tomorrow's tournament championship game. First, however, the Bruins have to get past the Golden Bears.
UCLA Tames the Wildcats
As I mentioned in yesterday's quarterfinal preview, UCLA has had Arizona's number all season. In their two regular season contests, the Bruins' average margin of victory against the Wildcats was just over 30 points.
Yesterday's game followed a similar script for the majority of the contest. UCLA struggled a bit in the first 5 minutes of the first quarter, but took a 21 point lead into the half. The Bruins led by 31 just a few minutes into the third quarter and then cruised to the finish line with bench players like Ashley Hearn and Paulina Hersler getting meaningful minutes in the fourth quarter.
UCLA's dominance started on the defensive end. UCLA held the Wildcats to 31% shooting from the field, and nine steals led to a lot of easy baskets for the Bruins.
Despite starting the game slowly, Monique Billings led UCLA in scoring. She scored with turnaround jumpers, she scored from offensive rebounds, she scored on fast breaks. She totalled 18 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks and 4 steals.
Nirra Fields added 17 points to go along with 6 rebounds, and Jordin Canada contributed 7 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
The biggest disappointment for UCLA was Kari Korver's struggles from the field. She was just 1 out of 10 from the field, and 0-8 from beyond the arc. It wasn't pretty. Let's hope that Korver's shooting slump was a one-game deal.
Scouting the Golden Bears
Cal may be the best four-win team in recent Pac-12 history. But like so many underperforming teams (e.g., 2015-16 UCLA Men's Basketball), the Golden Bears are less than the sum of their parts.
The strength of the Golden Bears is in the frontcourt. Freshman forward Kristine Anigwe is already one of the best players in the conference. She averages over 20 points/game and 9 rebounds/game. However, she is foul-prone, which limits her effectiveness at times.
Junior forward Courtney Range is dangerous too. Her range extends to the three-point line, and she's a pest on the offensive glass. She averages 13.3 points/game and 5.7 boards. Sophomore forward Mikayla Cowling is Cal's third leading scorer. She averages 11.5 points/game, and like Range, she isn't afraid to shoot from distance. In fact, Cowling is the Golden Bears' best 3-point shooter, converting from deep at a 40.4% clip.
Freshman Asha Thomas is the best of Cal's backcourt players. She averages 8.4 points/game and 4.5 assists/game.
The lack of depth and experience at guard is Cal's achilles heel. The Golden Bears have more turnovers than assists this season, which means that the Bruins should be able to prosper by pressuring the ball after made baskets.
What to Expect
Considering the way the Pac-12 Tournament has played out so far, it's probably wise to expect the unexpected. There is no doubt that the Bruins are the better team by quite a bit. The Bruins have balance and experience. The Golden Bears have an outstanding player though, and in basketball, sometimes that's enough.
If the Bruins rebound on the defensive end and take advantage of Cal's sloppiness with the ball, the Bruins should be able to put Cal away in the second half. However, if the Bruins struggle to knock down shots from the perimeter, the game may well go down to the final possession.