UCLA could not overcome a bad first half as the Bruins were ousted from the 2018 NCAA Women’s Tournament by Mississippi State tonight.
The Bruins’ only lead of the game came at the 7:38 mark of the first quarter when Monique Billings gave UCLA a 4-3 lead. The teams were tied at 6-6 about a minute later, but the Bulldogs went on an 11-0 run. The Bruins managed to go on a 6-0 run of their own, but UCLA would finish the quarter down by six, 23-17.
The second quarter was all-Mississippi State as the Bulldogs outscored the Bruins 19-9 in the quarter. During the quarter, the Bulldogs increased their lead with two runs in the quarter. They began the quarter with a 5-0 run to increase their lead to 11. Then, with the score 32-22, they went on a 10-2 run that gave Mississippi State an 18-point lead, which would be their biggest of the game. UCLA would add a bucket before the end of the half and it was 42-26 at the break.
The Bruins played much better in the second half. UCLA outscored the Bulldogs 24-21 in the quarter, cutting Mississippi State’s lead to 13 heading into the fourth quarter. Over the first three minutes of the fourth, the Bruins relied on a 13-2 run to not only cut the Bulldogs’ lead to single digits, but they also got as close as six, 67-61, with seven minutes to play.
It finally looked like the Bruins could pull off the upset.
But, with the score 69-63, Blair Schaefer, the daughter of Mississippi State coach Vic Shaefer, hit a three and it was like that shot let the air out of the Bruins’ sails. Or, more importantly, it served as the wakeup call the Bulldogs needed, as Mississippi State managed to stop the bleeding and started matching UCLA bucket for bucket.
UCLA was still down by just six points with 1:20 to go, but, over the last 80 seconds, the Bulldogs held the Bruins scoreless as they added 10 more points to win the game, 89-73.
Jordan Canada led the Bruins with 23 points, despite not making a field goal in the second or the third quarters. In her defense, Canada was playing with an arm injury that seemed to be bothering her and probably kept her from taking many shots in the middle quarters. She also led the Bruins in rebounds with 8.
Japreece Dean added 16 points for the Bruins while Monique Billings and Kennedy Burke each had 12 points.
The bottom line here is that the Bruins just ran up against a team that played a better game than the Bruins did and, in fact, the Bulldogs were a better team.
As a result, UCLA won’t be headed to the Women’s Final Four this year, but there’s no doubting that this team got better as the season went along. They started the season playing some remarkably inconsistent basketball, but they finished strong and won sixteen of their final twenty games.
And, more important than that, they advanced farther than they have in any of Cori Close’s seven seasons in Westwood.
While the team will be losing seniors Canada, Billings and Kelli Hayes, there’s actually a reason to be optimistic about the future of the women’s basketball program.