Thursday, 5:30 p.m.
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No. 25 UCLA hosts BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins haven't faced the Cougars since 2002.
The publicity was part smash-mouth overwhelming and part gruesomely unwelcoming.
When the UCLA women’s soccer team takes to the field Thursday at Drake Stadium, it will be facing a BYU team that made national headlines for being on the receiving end of the wrath of one Elizabeth Lambert.
But the outright physicality that Lambert, a senior defender for the New Mexico Lobos, displayed in the Mountain West Conference semifinals last year against the Cougars wasn’t completely unprovoked. In other words, if UCLA (12-7-1) hopes to advance past the first round of the NCAA playoffs, it will have to overcome BYU’s rough-and-tumble style of play.
“BYU has got really good size and a good physical presence,” UCLA coach Jillian Ellis said. “I expect a physical battle, but I think we’re used to playing against physical opponents. … Playing in the Pac-10, our players are definitely used to playing against high-caliber athletes.”
Their spirited methodology aside, the Cougars (16-3-2) have in their arsenal a multitude of scoring threats ““ five of their players have scored at least five goals this season, with junior forward Jennie Marshall leading the pack with seven. BYU also comes into Westwood having clinched the Mountain West championship after defeating New Mexico 1-0 in the conference title game Saturday.
On the other hand, the Bruins have built up some momentum of their own. After suffering through a three-game losing streak, UCLA bounced back to finish out the last leg of the regular season with three consecutive wins, the final one a dominating 3-0 shutout against Arizona State on Sunday.
Perhaps it is this concluding bravado that has the Bruins equipped with confidence and revved up for the postseason opener, even with the matchup against BYU slated for Thursday, the earliest of the 32 first-round matches.
“The thing about this team and our program historically is that we prepare very well,” Ellis said. “And the deal is that we don’t have a whole lot of time to prepare ““ that’s the wrinkle in this one, but the players are chomping at the bit.”
“We’re definitely excited to get the playoffs started,” junior forward Sydney Leroux confirmed.
Undoubtedly, BYU poses a formidable challenge to UCLA. But should the Bruins advance past the Cougars as well as the second round, they may very well be looking at a rematch against conference rival and top-seed Stanford (18-0-2) in the third round.
But then again, such a fate would entail several what-if scenarios to come to fruition, and the team isn’t bothering to dwell on hypothetical situations, not with the Cougars coming to town.
“We have to seriously just take each game as it comes,” redshirt junior Chante’ Sandiford said. “We can’t look ahead and see what happens if Stanford gets through because they could very well not get through. … We can’t predict anything at this point.”