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Bruin Bites: WNIT Final Four Edition

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It was another busy week for our Olympic sports student-athletes. Our women's basketball team continued its march through the WNIT to earn a semifinal matchup against Michigan. Elsewhere, our tennis teams, softball team, baseball team and women's water polo team all enjoyed a perfect week.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Women's Basketball

I have to admit to mixed feelings as I write about our women's basketball team and their success in the WNIT. While I'm happy for the players and coaches and their success, I'm deeply disappointed that their success comes in a consolation tournament. Equally disappointing to me is the fact that as I've watched Coach Close's team advance to the WNIT Final Four, I've seen the same talented team make the same mistakes that kept it from achieving greater things this year. If, as Coach Close claims, the WNIT is a chance for the team to grow and learn, it seems that the growing and learning will become apparent at some point down the road, because I haven't seen much of it yet.

But let me put those reservations aside for now. I believe Coach Close when she says that she wants to do things the right way. I like the players that she's brought into the program. When I watch freshmen Monique Billings, Jordin Canada, Lajahna Drummer, Recee' Caldwell and Kelli Hayes, I see athletic and skilled players who could form the core of a conference championship team. The potential is there, and I'm excited to see them accomplish big things.

For now, the Bruins are working on smaller things. They opened the week with a WNIT round of 16 game against Northern Colorado. The game see-sawed in the early going with streaky shooting by both teams. But with just over three minutes left in the first half, the Bruins jumped out to a 10 point lead that was fuelled by three-pointers from Kari Korver and Madeline Poteet.

UCLA carried a 39-31 lead into halftime but let NCU back into the game in the second half. With just under 12 minutes left in the game, the Bears held a 48-47 lead, and the Bruins were struggling to find ways to score. The Bruins regrouped, ratcheted up their defensive pressure, and started driving to the hoop. UCLA finished the game on a 27-12 run, giving the Bruins a 74-60 victory.

As usual, Nirra Fields led the Bruins in scoring, totalling 26 points to go with her eight boards. Jordin Canada chipped in with 14 points, and Kari Korver added 11. Lajahna Drummer collected 8 rebounds, and Monique Billings grabbed 6 rebounds and registered 3 blocks. It wasn't a pretty win, though. The Bruins were sloppy and too prone to playing too fast and taking risks. As a result, UCLA finished with 19 turnovers and only 8 assists.

On Sunday, the Bruins battled Saint Mary's in a WNIT Elite Eight game. Happily, the Bruins played with greater discipline than they'd displayed against the Bears.

UCLA was able to grind out an eight point lead with just under 5 minutes left in the first half, and they headed into halftime with a 34-25 lead.

The Bruins took control of the game in the first few minutes of the second half. UCLA held a 14 point lead two minutes into the second half, and an onslaught of three-pointers from the Bruins' guards gave UCLA an 18 point cushion with seven minutes remaining. Saint Mary's made a late run to cut the lead to seven, but the Bruins dug in and extended the lead to 16 again. At the final buzzer, the score was UCLA 82, Saint Mary's 66, and the Bruins had earned a WNIT Final Four matchup in Ann Arbor with the Wolverines.


Fields and Canada were the high scorers for the Bruins  with 13 apiece. Korver totalled 12 points from four three-pointers, and senior Corinne Costa added 10 points. Fields and Canada also had nine and seven assists, respectively, and the Bruins committed just 10 turnovers. UCLA's bench scored 32 points, which reflects the quality depth that Coach Close has at her disposal.

The Bruins face Michigan in their WNIT semifinal tomorrow at 4 PM PT. I'll have a game preview and game thread tomorrow afternoon.

Women's Water Polo

Our top-ranked women's water polo team was in Hawai'i last week for a pair of weekend games against the University of Hawai'i and San Diego State. But first up for the Bruins was an exhibition match against the Brazilian National team.

The Bruins started strong, leading 2-1 at the end of the first quarter, and 6-4 at halftime. Brazil erased the deficit in the third to even the score at 7, and then both teams netted three goals in the final quarter to make the score 10 all at the end of regulation.

The first overtime resulted in another goal for each team, and the second overtime produced the same outcome, leaving the score level at 12 apiece. That meant that the exhibition match was headed to a shootout. Sadly, the Bruins missed once more than the Brazilians in the shootout, which handed bragging rights (for now) to the Brazilian National team.

Fortunately, in games that count, UCLA was sharp. In their match against #6 Hawai'i, the Bruins exploded for five goals in the second quarter to take a 6-2 lead into halftime. Three more goals in the third quarter bumped the Bruins' lead to 9-4, and two goals apiece in the fourth gave UCLA a comfortable 11-6 victory.

Junior All-American Rachel Fatal led the UCLA attack with four goals, while senior Emily Donohoe recorded a hat-trick, and junior India Forster registered a brace.

The Bruins were even better against the #19 Aztecs. UCLA scored 7 unanswered goals to start the game; the Aztecs didn't get on the scoreboard until the third quarter. UCLA added another 6 goals in the second half, and the Aztecs never managed to make up any ground on the Bruins. The final score was 13-4, but the game wasn't as close as the score indicates.

Three Bruins recorded a brace: freshman Devin Grab, freshman Alexis Angermund, and sophomore Ashley Zwirner. I know this because the San Diego State website has a list of our scorers. The website run by the UCLA Athletics Department, overseen by Dan Guerrero, somehow can't manage to see that there's a problem if the sum of our individual scorers' goals is 10 while the team's total is 13. It's just another example of Dan Guerrero's commitment to "excellence." (By the  way, if you think I'm being unfair to the guy in charge and his staff, please explain why they made the exact same mistake two days earlier.)

Mini-Bites

Women's Tennis

UCLA's women's tennis team enjoyed their weekend trip to the Pacific Northwest. The first stop for the fourth-ranked Bruins was Seattle to face the Huskies. UCLA took the doubles point easily with wins for all three pairs: Anderson/Brady (8-3), Harrison/McPhillips (8-6), and Van Nguyen/Wiley (8-3).

The singles matches proved to be equally comfortable for the Bruins, with straight sets victories on five of the six courts. Robin Anderson cruised on court 1, winning 6-2, 6-1; Jennifer Brady did likewise on court 2, 6-3, 6-2. On court 3, Chanelle Van Nguyen eventually pulled away, 7-5, 6-1, and on court 4, Catherine Harrison quickly dispatched her opponent, 6-1, 6-1. The final singles win came on court 6, where Teri Fleming blanked her opponent in the final set, 7-6, 6-0. The 6-1 defeat of the Huskies moved UCLA to 13-3 on the season.

Next up was a match in Eugene against the Oregon Ducks. Surprisingly, our top-ranked doubles team of Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips lost their match, but the Bruins snagged the doubles point anyway with wins by Anderson/Brady (8-4) and Van Nguyen/Wiley (8-2).

In singles, Robin Anderson won easily (6-1, 6-1), as did Teri Fleming (6-1, 6-0). On court 5, Kristen Wiley fought back to earn a crucial victory: 4-6, 6-3 (13-11). Meanwhile, Catherine Harrison was locked up in a tough battle on court 4; after sailing through the first set, she struggled to put away her opponent, but eventually eked out the win, 6-2, 7-6(12).

The 5-2 victory over the Ducks puts the Bruins at 14-3 overall and 4-1 in the conference. The Bruins will be back on the road this weekend, with ASU and Arizona scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

Softball

Although our tenth-ranked softball team had a single game last week, it was a doozy. The Bruins needed 10 innings, a couple of clutch hits, and another brilliant pitching performance from Ally Carda to return to Westwood with the victory.

In the top of the first, a two-out triple by Stephany LaRosa drove home a pair and spotted freshman Johanna Grauer a two run lead. But Grauer couldn't hold the lead for long. The Matadors came back with four in the bottom of the second, and Carda was called on to end the Northridge rally.

UCLA closed the gap to 4-3 in the fifth when LaRosa doubled in a run, but the Matadors averted further damage by getting out of the inning with the bases full of Bruins. Then, in the seventh, with UCLA down to its final out, LaRosa came through again with a double to right. Brittany Moeai followed LaRosa with a single up the middle to score pinch runner Robyn Corruth and knot the score at 4-4.

Meanwhile, Carda had stymied the Matador batters. Finally, in the tenth, Carda slapped a single up the middle to score Gracie Goulder, and Maddy Jelenicki brought home an insurance run with a sacrifice fly. But Ally Carda needed just one run. She shut the door on the Matadors in the bottom half to seal a 6-4 win for the Bruins.

Cards ended up pitching 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball, striking out 11 and surrendering only two hits. Carda, Moeai, Goulder, and Gabrielle Maurice each had two hits. Stephany LaRosa pounded three hits and drove in three runs with a pair of doubles and a triple.

The Bruins have a tremendously important series this weekend against the Oregon Ducks. If you can, be sure to head out to Easton Stadium to show your support for the Bruins.

Sand Volleyball

Our eighth-ranked sand volleyball team had a single match last week, but they kept their season record perfect with a 4-1 defeat of Saint Mary's. The victory gives UCLA a 3-0 record to start the year.

Coach Stein Metzler changed some of the pairings against Saint Mary's, but somehow the Bruins still managed to lose on court 1, which has been a problem all season. After taking the first set, the new #1 pair, Elise Zappia and Madie Smith, couldn't hold on for the win, losing 21-18, 11-21, 10-15.

Fortunately, the Bruins earned victories on the remaining courts. The new pairing of Kamila Tan and Zoë Nightingale won on court 2, 21-17, 17-21, 15-12, and Laurel Weaver and Julie Consani battled to a three-set win on court 3, 20-22, 21-16, 15-11. It was easier for the final two pairs, with each winning in straight sets. Karly Drolson and Rachel Inouye claimed victory on court 4, 21-11, 21-15, and the new pairing of Ivey Schmitt and Anastasia Kunz clobbered their opponents on court 5, 21-5, 21-9.

UCLA hosts a rematch with #9 Loyola Marymount tomorrow.

Men's Volleyball

It seems like every step forward our men's volleyball team takes this year is followed by a step back. So it was again this past week, as the Bruins pushed aside Cal Baptist on Thursday before falling to Southern Cal on Saturday.

As you might expect from an inexperienced team, the Bruins have been plagued by attack and service errors this year. However, against Cal Baptist, UCLA was much cleaner in attack, committing just 13 errors and hitting an efficient 0.301 (compared to 0.188 for the Lancers). Nevertheless, the Bruins still managed to drop a set, and their 24 service errors for the match is one of the reasons. Likewise, nine reception errors is an unforgivable total. Against a team like Cal Baptist, the Bruins can survive these errors, but against elite teams, UCLA's propensity to gift wrap points is too much to overcome.

The final scores against Cal Baptist were 25-19, 25-20, 20-25, 25-23. Sophomore Mitch Stahl led the Bruins with 11 kills and a 0.667 attack percentage. Redshirt freshman Eric Sprague gets my vote as player of the match with nine kills and seven blocks, though his five service errors in eight attempts is shockingly poor. Freshman Eric Matheis contributed 30 assists and 8 digs.

To UCLA's credit, the Bruins extended #9 Southern Cal to five sets on Saturday before falling short, 25-19, 22-25, 25-14, 22-25, 11-15. As has often happened this season, the Bruins outhit their opponents (0.272 to 0.250), and in fact, largely outplayed the opposition, but managed to lose key points at critical points in the match.

Freshman J.T. Hatch established a new career-high with 25 kills to pace the Bruins' attack. Redshirt freshman Oliver Martin came off the bench to add 14 kills, and Eric Matheis dished out 53 assists.

In spite of a heartbreaking loss to the Trojans, J.T. Hatch's strong performance earned him national recognition, again:

The outlook for Coach Speraw's squad didn't improve with #1 Hawai'i in town on Monday and Tuesday for a pair of matches.

Last night, the Bruins fought mightily, but couldn't hold onto an early lead against the Rainbow Warriors. After taking the first two sets, UCLA's attack went cold, and the Bruins never really threatened in any of the final three sets. The final scores were 25-22, 25-23, 16-25, 19-25, 8-15.

Freshman Jake Arnitz led the Bruins' attack with 13 kills; Trent Kersten and Mitch Stahl each collected 11 kills through the middle. The loss drops UCLA to 11-10 overall and, crucially, to 7-10 in the MPSF, good for eighth place, and half a game ahead of Stanford.

The Bruins have a chance to turn the tables tonight. Let's hope that they've learned from yesterday's mistakes.

Men's Tennis

Our 15th-ranked men's tennis team started their Pac-12 campaign in impressive fashion last week with a pair of home victories against Oregon and Washington.

Although UCLA was without its ace, Mackenzie McDonald, the Ducks never troubled the Bruins. The Bruins won the doubles point with victories from Joseph Di Giulio/Karue Sell (6-1) and Dennis Mkrtchian/Austin Rapp (6-4). UCLA's domination continued in singles. The Bruins claimed the spoils on all six courts, with Mkrtchian, Martin Redlicki, and Ryoto Tachi winning in straight sets. The 7-0 shutout of the Ducks was the perfect start to the Pac-12 season for UCLA.

The Bruins' match on Saturday against Washington unfolded much like the match against Oregon. UCLA took the doubles point courtesy of victories by Di Giulio/Sell (6-3) and Gage Brymer/Martin Redlicki (6-1). The Bruins then claimed five of the six points in singles behind wins by Mkrtchian (6-4, 6-3), Redlicki (6-3, 6-2), Brymer (6-4, 6-4), Sell (6-2, 3-5, 6-2), and Di Giulio (6-2, 6-2).

The 6-1 triumph over the Huskies pushed the Bruins' season record to 11-6 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-12. Without Mackenzie McDonald available, Dennis Mkrtchian flourished in the No. 1 role for the Bruins. His terrific weekend earned him deserved recognition from the Pac-12:

UCLA will again host matches this week, with Arizona taking the court on Friday, and Utah following suit on Saturday.

Micro Bites

Baseball

If you've been following orlandobruin's fantastic coverage of our first place baseball team, you know that the Bruins were in Pullman over the weekend, and returned home with a series sweep of the Cougars. UCLA improved to 21-5 overall, 8-1 in the Pac-12, and moved into the fourth spot in the NCBWA poll.

Outfielder Ty Moore had an outstanding week, going 5-13 with a double, a home run, and nine RBI. Yesterday the Pac-12 recognized his achievement, naming him Pac-12 Player of the Week.

Rowing

Our 11th-ranked women's rowing team was in San Diego this past weekend for the San Diego Crew Classic. The Bruins' Varsity Four finished first in the Grand Final, three seconds ahead of the team from Southern Cal, to claim the Karen Plumleigh Cortney Cup.

Congratulations to Victoria Miraldi, Madeleine Pont, Lauryn Robinson, Emma Murray, and Maddie Alden!

Track and Field

Last Tuesday, UCLA held the inaugural Jim Bush Team Invitational at Drake Stadium. Both the men's team and the women's team earned wins, outdistancing Washington State and Long Beach State. Based on his impressive performances at the Jim Bush Team Invitational and at the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten Invitational, junior Nicholas Scarvelis was selected as Pac-12 Field Athlete of the Week.

Men's Water Polo

I know, I know... The men's water polo season was over months ago. But our national championship team was honored at the West Super Regional last week, so they make a deserved appearance in the Bruin Bites this week:

Men's Basketball

Lastly, although the exploits of our men's basketball team have been covered extensively, the end of the season means that it's time to say farewell to our seniors.

We wish Nick, Kory, David, and Norman the very best as they move forward and take on new challenges.

Those are your Bruin Bites for the week.

Go BRUINS!