Pac-12 Tournament Championship Game
#12 UCLA Women's Basketball (24-7, 14-4)
Opponent: #7 Oregon State (27-4, 16-2)
When: 6:00 PM PST, Sunday, March 6, 2016
Where: KeyArena, Seattle, WA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: ESPN Scoreboard
UCLA Needs Overtime to Eliminate Cal
It wasn't easy, but the Bruins took care of business in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals against an inspired Cal Golden Bears team. It wasn't just a matter of beating Cal in overtime; the Bruins needed a last second three-pointer from Kari Korver to even the score at 61 before easing to victory in the extra period. If you missed Korver's clutch shot, be sure to watch the highlights.
As they've done too many times this season, the Bruins started slowly. Cal was up by as many as 14 points late in the first quarter before UCLA narrowed the gap to 9 heading to the second. Considering the fact that the Bruins allowed the Golden Bears to score 22 points in the first quarter, you might conclude that UCLA's slow start was a result of poor defense, but actually the bigger problem was the Bruins' poor decision-making in their halfcourt offense. Eight turnovers in the first 10 minutes gave Cal an opportunity to score in transition and stymied UCLA's efforts to catch up.
Of course UCLA's cold shooting didn't help either, but as the Bruins ratcheted up the defensive pressure, their offense eventually came to life. By the end of the third quarter, UCLA had pulled within one, and the Bruins took the lead just 14 seconds into the fourth on a short jumper by Monique Billings. The Bruins weren't able to build a lead larger than three points, however, and that left the door open for the Golden Bears to make a late surge that gave them a three-point lead with 8 seconds left in the game.
That's when Korver came to the rescue. Her heroics not only netted the Bruins the three points they needed to knot the score, but since she was fouled in the act of shooting, she went to the charity stripe to put the exclamation mark on a four-point play and to give UCLA a one-point advantage. Unfortunately she missed. That gave Cal one more chance, but the Bruins did a terrific job of defending the interior, which led Asha Thomas to launch a desperate, off-target three, sending the game into overtime.
After Mikayla Cowling scored to give Cal a quick two-point lead, Jordin Canada took over. She scored eight of the Bruins' twelve points in OT, and she managed the game brilliantly in the final two minutes when Cal was applying full court pressure.
Canada led the Bruins with 26 points, but Monique Billings was UCLA's outstanding player. Billings added 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 steals, and it was her post play that caused foul trouble for Cal's Kristine Anigwe. For the second straight game, Korver was ice cold from the field. The Bruins will definitely need her to be more productive today, so let's hope that her late game heroics give her a confidence boost today.
Scouting the Beavers
The Bruins had mixed success against the Beavers this season in their two regular season encounters. Two months ago, UCLA beat OSU by 20 in the friendly confines of Pauley Pavilion. However, Oregon State was without its star point guard Sydney Wiese that day, and when center Ruth Hamblin got into early foul trouble and went to the bench, UCLA built a sizeable lead that was just too much for the Beavers to overcome.
When the teams met last month in Corvallis, the story was much different. The Beavers won the guard matchup, and Hamblin posted a 16-15 double-double while swatting six shots. UCLA didn't get blown out, but the Bruins were a clear second-best, losing by 10.
Like the Bruins, the Beavers are led by a pair of All-Pac-12 guards. Jamie Weisner is OSU's leading scorer (17.2 points/game) and is deadly from beyond the arc (44.7%). Her backcourt running mate, Sydney Wiese, average 12. 5 points/game while filling her role as the Beavers' primary ball handler (5 assists/game). In addition to being a defensive force in the middle, All-Pac-12 center Ruth Hamblin averages 11.5 points/game and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Gabriella Hanson is OSU's glue-player. She's a tough defender, and she is underrated as a multi-skilled contributor on the offensive end.
The Beavers don't rely on their bench for much of their scoring. In their first two games in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Beavers' bench contributed a total of 3 points. Although that hasn't been a big problem for Oregon State this season, it suggests that the Beavers may be especially vulnerable if any of their starters get into foul trouble.
What to Expect
This game seems destined to be decided by the battle between the pair of guards leading each team. If Weisner and Wiese can shut down penetration by Canada and Fields, the Bruins will be in trouble. On the other hand, if Canada and Field can turnover OSU's guards, the Bruins should be able to pick up easy baskets in transition.
The Beavers are very good at controlling pace, so expect tonight's final to be slower-paced and with a greater emphasis on half court basketball.
Finally, Kari Korver has to win her matchup with Gabriella Hanson. If Korver's shooting slump extends into tonight's contest, it will be very difficult for the Bruins to claim the Pac-12 Tournament title.
Tonight's Pac-12 championship game will be a defensive battle. For those UCLA fans who have been following Steve Alford's Bruins and haven't seen Coach Close's team play yet, I hope you appreciate seeing a well-coached team.