I’m honestly unsure how to start this post-game article. Let’s start with some of the basics. UCLA’s run in the NCAA Women’s Tournament is over, ended at the hands of the UConn Huskies by the final score of 69-61. The Bruins had come roaring back in this game after trailing by as many as 12 points in the 2nd quarter and, even held a 1 point lead going into the 4th quarter, but the skill of UConn proved to be too much over the final frame, as junior guard Crystal Dangerfield absolutely took over the game in the final 10 minutes.
On the one hand, I’m sure there is a feeling of disappointment in the fanbase. UCLA had outscored the Huskies 35-27 in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and had all of the momentum before an unsportsmanlike foul (basically a flagrant foul) on Lajahna Drummer gave UConn new life, and the Huskies were able to get their feet back from under them. The Bruins became flustered by a 3⁄4 court press that UConn employed to start the 4th quarter and, considering the short bench that UConn used (only 6 players saw the court for the Huskies), it may have behooved the Bruins to attack the inside more often just to get UConn in foul trouble. Japreece Dean was a wildly-inefficient 6 of 22 from the field, including 1 of 11 from three-point range, which did not help matters.
But, at the same time, it’s hard not to still feel incredibly proud of this squad. At the end of the post-game article for UCLA’s victory over Maryland, I said the following:
Now for their reward: a date with the UConn Huskies, one of the most dominant programs in women’s basketball and the same team that knocked them out of the Sweet 16 two years ago. For some reason, this has not felt like the same dominant Huskies as we’ve seen in recent years, but this is still a team that UCLA will have to play their hearts out to beat.
The good news? I don’t think anyone can doubt whether they possess the heart required to succeed.
I mentioned in that article that this is a rebuilding year. So, for UCLA to even make the Sweet 16 was a success, but this team has proven time and again that they aren’t willing to settle for just being good enough. The Bruins walked into Albany, in front of an extremely-partisan crowd, facing a team that has made the Final Four 11 straight years and showed zero fear. They refused to just roll over for the Husky dynasty and that should be the biggest takeaway from this game.
Let’s give a shout-out to Kennedy Burke, Lajahna Drummer, and Chrissy Baird. All three seniors have been exemplary standard-bearers for the school and this program and have played during one of the greatest runs in the history of UCLA women’s basketball. Burke finished her UCLA career with one final double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Drummer had a rough game, but was, once again, an anchor down low on defense for the Bruins, logging two blocks, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists on the night.
And, let’s end this by mentioning that the future looks bright for the Bruins. Dean will be back next year after being granted another year of eligibility. So, too, will be sophomore Michaela Onyenwere and redshirt freshman Lindsey Corsaro. UCLA’s bench in this game, Ahlana Smith, Kiara Jefferson, and Lauryn Miller, are all freshmen and sophomores. The incoming recruiting class should be excellent. This is a program that is on the rise and Coach Cori Close deserves all kinds of credit for taking this program and growing it the way she has.
This was a tough end of the season, but do not dwell on the end. Think instead of the bright tomorrow waiting.