The UCLA women’s soccer team (14-4-1) opens NCAA postseason play tonight at Wallis Annenberg Stadium hosting the Lamar University Cardinals at 6 pm PT. Although Lamar won the Southland Conference Tournament last week and are winners of 15 of their last 16 games, UCLA will be favored to win at home and advance to the round of 32 next weekend.
This is the first time that the two programs have ever played each other.
Last Time Out
Last Friday saw UCLA prevail over Southern Cal in the Crosstown Showdown, which was played in Westwood this year. The win allowed UCLA to finish second in the Pac-12 and helped lock up a #2 seed for the Bruins in the NCAA postseason.
UCLA won, 4-2, but had to overcome an early 1-0 deficit on a 5th minute goal by Natalie Jacobs. The Bruins roared back to level in the 22nd minute on a goal by Chloe Castaneda, and, then, took the lead in the 28th minute on a Mia Fishel tally.
UCLA would concede a goal in the 43rd minute, on a nifty steal, move, and chip-of-the-goalkeeper by Penelope Hocking. The teams were knotted up, 2-2, going into the dressing room at the half.
It was all UCLA after the break, attacking in wave after wave, the Bruins broke down the Trojans twice in the span of three minutes, once in the 77th and then again in the 79th on goals by Viviana Villacorta and Lucy Parker, respectively. That would be all UCLA needed.
The Bruins dominated the stat sheet, outshooting Southern Cal 27 to 4 on the night and 14 to 2 on frame. The Trojans were forced to alter their style of play against the Bruins as they were missing top scorer, Tara McKeown.
Lamar University Cardinals
Located in Beaumont, Texas, Lamar University plays in the Southland Conference. By virtue of winning the Southland Conference Tournament last week, Lamar gained automatic entry into the NCAA postseason. This will be the second time in the last three years that Lamar has made the round of 64. Two years ago, the Cardinals lost at Texas A&M, 1-0, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
After a tough stretch to start the season, in which the Cardinals lost five out of their first six games including losses to larger programs such as Arkansas, a #3 seed in the postseason, by the score of 7-0, and Oklahoma State, also a #3 seed, by the score of 3-0, Lamar rallied to go 15-1 since then, starting with a win over Texas Southern on September 13th. The only loss during Lamar’s 15-1 streak was a 2-1 contest at Northwestern State, the Cardinals’ only loss in conference play.
Lamar avenged that loss, beating Northwestern State in the Southland Conference Tournament championship game last Sunday night with an NCAA berth on the line, 3-1.
So, what can UCLA expect when the Cardinals visit today?
First off, Lamar scores a lot more goals than UCLA and also gives up a lot more goals. The Cardinals have found the back of the net 60 times this season, while the Bruins have only potted 37. At the same time, Lamar has allowed 40 goals while UCLA has been scored on only 15 times.
While a part of this no doubt has to do with the step down in competition between the Southland Conference and the Pac-12, it strains credulity to think that Lamar is going to go off on the Bruins to the tune of three or four goals with the Bruins’ strengthened backline in 2019.
Conversely, UCLA attackers such as Ashley Sanchez, Mia Fishel, and Anika Rodriguez could have a field day against the defense that surrendered an average of almost two goals a game, mostly against lesser competition than UCLA faced this season.
That having been said, UCLA cannot sleep on the Cardinals. Junior forward Esther Okoronkwo scored 25...yes...25 goals this season to go with ten assists. Another junior, Lucy Ashworth, has 18 goals and 16 assists, completing a phenomenal season. UCLA needs to be very, very wary of Okoronkwo and Ashworth.
Congratulations to Lamar on winning the Southland Conference Tournament and making the postseason for the second time in three seasons. Unfortunately, the Cardinals’ party will likely end in Westwood. I see the stingy Bruin defense shutting down, for the most part, Lamar’s weapons and I see the Bruins fattening up on Lamar’s defense. My prediction is a final score of 5-1, UCLA.