In case you missed it, the UCLA women's basketball team won the 2015 WNIT National Championship!
I know what you're thinking...Is there a t-shirt? You bet!
That t-shirt alone tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the priorities of Dan Guerrero.
But getting back to our women's basketball team, they beat a tough West Virginia squad in the WNIT final, 62-60, to claim the consolation tournament title and finish the season with a winning record, 19-18. I won't revisit the debate about the value of participating in the WNIT. However, next year I expect to see the promised team growth and maturation that Coach Close attached to our participation in the tournament. Our 2015 WNIT success needs to take the program on to bigger and better things.
The contest itself was exactly the kind of game that the Mountaineers wanted--a tough, defensive battle with WVU using a lot of clock on each possession. With WVU dictating the pace of the game, and the Bruins most potent perimeter shooters struggling to score, UCLA needed someone else to carry the scoring load. Freshman point guard Jordin Canada did just that.
From the outset, it was clear that WVU was intent on locking the Bruins into a low-scoring, physical battle. The Mountaineers hoped to exploit their size advantage, and the Bruins hoped to push the tempo, and create space on the wings for Kari Korver and Nirra Fields. After Jordin Canada hit a jumper to give the Bruins the opening basket, the score was just 6-5 UCLA at the 15 minute mark.
A steal and two free throws by Canada extended the UCLA to three, but at the halfway point of the first half, WVU had pulled even at 16 thanks to WVU's prolific scorer Averee Fields. An 8-2 run by the Mountaineers followed, and with the Bruins finding baskets from the usual sources hard to come by, a pair of freshman got the Bruins back on track. Paulina Hersler's layup brought the Bruins to within four, and two free throws by Lajahna Drummer closed the gap to two.
As the Bruins did against the Wolverines in the semis, they closed the half strong to take a 30-28 into the locker room. A layup by freshman Kelli Hayes on a nice pass from freshman Monique Billings gave the Bruins a lead with just under a minute to play. Then, after turning the ball over to let WVU tie the score, Canada stole the ball in the last few seconds and finished with a layup at the buzzer.
Foul trouble started to become a problem for both teams early in the second half. Senior Corinne Costa picked up her third within the opening minute of the restart, and a couple of minutes later, the Mountaineers center Lanay Montgomery had collected her fourth. Meanwhile, both teams struggled to score. At the 12:00 minute mark, the score was tied at 39 after a jumper by Costa.
Costa lasted another three and a half minutes before being called for her fourth foul. Bria Holmes hit both of the ensuing free throws to even the score at 43.
In just a little over a minute, the Bruins were heading toward the kind of collapse that we'd seen far too many times this season. A pair of turnovers helped WVU go on a 6-0 run before a timeout stopped the bleeding.
The Bruins regrouped, and seven seconds after the restart, Jordin Canada hit a big jumper, and on UCLA's next possession, Lajahna Drummer got free for a layup. The Bruins were back to within two.
With a little over 4 minutes left in the game, and with UCLA trailing by 3, Kari Korver finally found an opening and nailed a three. UCLA and West Virginia were tied at 53.
Canada broke the deadlock with a layup 30 seconds later, and freshman Kelli Hayes doubled the UCLA lead with a steal and layup with a little over 3 minutes left in the contest.
The Mountaineers slowly chipped away at the lead. With 44 seconds left, a layup by WVU's Linda Stepney cut the Bruins' lead to one, 58-57. But the Bruins had the answer the rest of the way: Jordin Canada.
With 23 seconds left, Canada drove to the baseline and scored a beautiful reverse layup to give UCLA a three point cushion. She then raced down the court, stole the ball, and when she was fouled, she converted both free throws to extend the UCLA lead to 62-57. A late three by Stepney brought WVU back to within two at 62-60, but it was too little, too late. The Bruins were the WNIT champions.
In case you were wondering, Canada finished with a career-high 31 points--half of UCLA's total--and four steals. Lajahna Drummer had a big game with eight points and eight boards, and Corinne Costa added 6 points and 4 rebounds in spite of foul trouble. Kelli Hayes and Monique Billings deserve special mention for providing solid minutes off the bench when Costa and Fields got into foul trouble. Speaking of Fields, it was probably the most frustrating game of the season for her as she just couldn't get any of her shots to fall, but she definitely played her part in the Bruins' strong defensive effort.
Congratulations to the team and Coach Close! I really want Coach Close to succeed--she understands and honors the UCLA basketball tradition of excellence. Let's hope that next year sees the Bruins competing for a real National Championship.
Women's Water Polo
Our top-ranked women's water polo team had a light week of action. The Bruins were in Arizona on Saturday to face the #7 Sun Devils. As the Bruins have done so often this season, they took control of the game early. UCLA scored three in the opening quarter, and another three in the second to take a 6-2 lead into halftime. They then tacked on another five in the third to give goalkeeper Sami Hill a comfortable 11-4 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Bruins had no trouble protecting that lead in the final quarter, and left Tempe with an impressive 11-5 victory.
Junior All-American Rachel Fatal recorded a first half hat trick to lead the Bruins' attack, and sophomore Ashley Zwirner scored a brace. Goalkeeper Sami Hill registered 11 saves. With the win, the Bruins record improves to 4-0 in the MPSF and 20-1 overall.
Although the Bruins have just two games left before the MPSF tournament begins, both are big games. Before closing out the regular season against #3 Southern Cal (20-2, 3-1), UCLA will travel to Palo Alto to take on #2 Stanford (18-1, 3-0) at noon on Saturday. Needless to say, the Bruins need to beat the Cardinal in order to claim sole possession of first place in the conference and to hold onto their #1 ranking.
The Bruins and Cardinal have split their matches so far this season. The Bruins dropped a 10-6 decision to the Cardinal back at the beginning of February at the Stanford Invitational. However, the Bruins evened the season series with a double overtime victory in the UCI Invitational three weeks later.
As important as this week's contest with Stanford is, it is unlikely to be the last time the nation's two top teams will meet. I fully expect to see the rivalry renewed twice more--once in the MPSF tournament final, and again in the NCAA Championship game.
Like the women's water polo team, our #4 women's tennis team were in Arizona last week. The Bruins opened their trip to the desert on Friday with a narrow 4-3 win over #23 Arizona State. The Bruins claimed the doubles point with wins on courts 1 & 2 behind the pairs of Robin Anderson/Jennifer Brady and Catherine Harrison/Kyle McPhillips. Although Robin Anderson was defeated in her singles match, UCLA managed to win the match with singles victories by Brady (6-4, 6-2), Chanelle Van Nguyen ((4-6, 6-2, 6-0), and Catherine Harrison (6-0, 6-1).
On Saturday, the Bruins made much easier work of the Wildcats, shutting out Arizona 7-0. UCLA secured the doubles point behind 8-3 wins by Harrison/McPhillips and Kristen Wiley/Chanelle Van Nguyen. The Bruins then swept the singles contests with straight sets wins on five of the six courts.
With the two road wins, the Bruins (16-3, 6-1) hold onto third place in the Pac-12, one game behind USC and half a game behind Cal. UCLA is at home this weekend to host Colorado on Friday and Utah on Saturday. The Bruins close out the regular season the following week with a trip across town to play #1 Southern Cal.
Our 15th-ranked men's tennis team was at home last week for a pair of matches. First up was the Arizona Wildcats, and the Bruins cruised to a 4-0 shut out. Mackenzie McDonald was back with the team, and he and Martin Redlicki along with the doubles team of Dennis Mkrtchian and Austin Rapp claimed the doubles point with 6-2 wins on courts 1 & 3. The three singles points needed to win the match came courtesy of Rapp (6-0, 6-4), Mkrtchian (6-0, 6-2), and Redlicki (6-2,6-3). McDonald, Ryoto Tachi, and Joseph Di Giulio were all a set up when the match was suspended.
The following day, the Bruins extended their recent streak of dominant performances with a 7-0 thrashing of the Utah Utes, in which UCLA didn't drop a single set. The pair of weekend victories takes UCLA to 13-6 on the season, and 4-0 in the Pac-12.
The Bruins are in the Bay Area this weekend for showdowns with Stanford (13-4, 4-0) and Cal (16-5, 4-0). With Southern Cal ((18-3, 4-0) also in northern California this weekend, the title race in the Pac-12 will really begin to take shape.
By the way, Martin Redlicki's brilliance on the court last week has been recognized by the Pac-12:
Our eighth-ranked sand volleyball squad played a doubleheader last Saturday. Unfortunately, the Bruins couldn't maintain their terrific start to the day, and ended up with a rather unsatisfying split.
Against Cal State Bakersfield, it never looked like the Roadrunners would threaten UCLA's perfect start to the season. The Bruins won in straight sets on all five courts, and it was especially good to see UCLA finally get a win from their No. 1 doubles pair. T
he 5-0 whitewash of #19 CSUB set the Bruins up nicely for the following match against #5 Long Beach State. But UCLA showed very little fight against the 49ers, with only the Bruins' pair of Julie Consani and Laurel Weaver managing to take a set. The loss was the Bruins' first of the season, and leaves the Bruins with a 5-1 record as they prepare for a pair of matches in Palo Alto this weekend against Cal and Stanford.
Last, and in this case least, our 12th-ranked men's volleyball team's woes continue. Last Tuesday, the Bruins played the second of their back-to-back matches against top-ranked Hawai'i, and the final score is indicative of how far we are behind the top team in the country. The Rainbow Warriors blanked UCLA 3-0 (25-13, 25-18, 25-18), and completely controlled net play.
Tuesday, against #3 Pepperdine, UCLA had a chance to prove that they can compete with top teams. Unfortunately, the Bruins flunked that test, losing in straight sets to the Waves, 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-19). Although UCLA played better against Pepperdine, the quality of the Bruins' play is well below what it takes to contend for the MPSF title.
At 11-12 overall and 7-12 in the conference, the Bruins are in peril of failing to qualify for the MPSF tournament. Coach Speraw's squad currently sits in ninth place, tied with Cal State Northridge, and half a game behind Stanford. The Bruins' best chance to claim the last tournament spot is to hope that Stanford is swept this weekend in Hawai'i and Cal State Northridge is swept by BYU. If that happens, and the Bruins defeat UCSD, then the final tournament spot will be decided in the Bruins' final game of the regular season--a match against Stanford in Palo Alto.
Of course, if UCLA can defeat #4 UCI at Pauley this Friday, that changes the tournament qualification picture pretty dramatically. However, the Bruins will have to play a lot better than we've seen recently for a victory over UCI to be realistic.
Our eighth-ranked softball team had a roller coaster weekend against #1 Oregon that unfortunately featured more downs than ups. The first game in the series gave the Bruins a great start to the weekend. Ally Carda was in top form again, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out 14. Carda wasn't bad with the bat either, slamming a home run in her first at-bat, and singling to left in the third to ignite the Bruins' four-run rally.
Carda wasn't the only star for UCLA. Gabrielle Maurice and Kylee Perez each had a pair of singles, and Stephany LaRosa hit her sixth homer of the season. Most impressive, though, was the fact that the Bruins scored six off Cheridan Hawkins, one of the nation's best pitchers. The final score was 8-1, and the Bruins had a dream start to the weekend series.
You want some highlights from tonight's 8-1 win? We have a few. Enjoy. http://t.co/E9EnnEuLAg— UCLA Softball (@UCLASoftball) April 4, 2015
Saturday's game started out in much the same way. UCLA scored four off Hawkins in the bottom of the second, and Carda sailed through the first four innings conceding just one run and four hits.
Johanna Grauer came in to relieve Carda in the fifth and blanked the Ducks until the top of the seventh. That's when the wheels came off for the Bruins. Three singles later, the Bruins' lead had been cut to 4-2, and when the next batter pounded a three-run homer to left, Oregon had completed the comeback. By the time Carda came back in to get the final out of the inning, Oregon had added another. It ended 6-4 to the Ducks.
I don't know if the Bruins were still in a funk over their late game collapse when they took the field on Sunday, but they never got the bats going. Hawkins was back in the circle for the Ducks, and she got into a groove early. Meanwhile, Carda was a bit wild, and Oregon took advantage in the third, scoring five runs, four of which came home on a grand slam by Koral Costa.
Carda's woes continued in the fourth. She surrendered four runs and was relieved by Grauer. Grader conceded Oregon's tenth run of the day in the top of the fifth, and when the Bruins failed to score in the bottom half, the game was over by virtue of the mercy rule. A weekend that had begun with such a promising start had ended in disappointment.
The series loss to the Ducks drops UCLA (32-8, 6-3) into a second place tie with Arizona, two and a half games behind the Ducks. UCLA will try to get back to winning ways this weekend with a three game set against Stanford in Palo Alto.
Finally, because I like to end the weekly Olympic Sports Bruin Bites on a sunny note, I leave you with this:
It's always sunny at UCLA pic.twitter.com/Krd51eGIb3— UCLA Women's VB (@UCLAWomensVB) April 3, 2015
Those are your Bruin Bites for the week.