Redshirt senior forward Alyssia Brewer looked down, adjusted her feet and then leapt up, batting the ball behind her. Redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa grabbed the loose ball and then fired it ahead to senior forward Markel Walker for a wide-open layup. The Bruins never looked back.
From the opening tip to the final horn, UCLA dominated in its 70-58 win over California in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. After losing to the Golden Bears by 28 points three weeks ago, the Bruins returned the favor on Saturday, leading by as many as 26 in the win.
And they beat them at their own game.
Cal, who led the Pac-12 in rebounding and rebounding margin in the regular season, could not compete with UCLA on the glass. Nor could the Golden Bears stop the Bruins in the paint.
UCLA worked the ball inside, getting easy shots under the basket on nearly every first-half possession as it built a 35-14 lead before halftime, thanks to its 55.6 percent field goal percentage.
As UCLA knocked down its shots at an efficient clip, Cal struggled to find any way to score. UCLA played physical defense, keeping Cal out of the paint and forcing it to rely on jump shots. Unable to hit these long-range shots, Cal finished the first half shooting just 20 percent.
The blowout continued in the second. Cal’s Gennifer Brandon stole a pass, but followed with an air-balled layup and, after getting her own rebound, a missed shot behind the backboard as the ball ricocheted off the horizontal extension of the backboard.
A few minutes later, as senior guard Mariah Williams laid in a breakaway basket, no Cal defender made it past half-court to contest the shot.
UCLA capitalized on Cal’s sloppiness and lapses in energy, extending its halftime lead, but Cal eventually began to find rhythm. The Golden Bears, after shooting 0-11 from behind the arc in the first half, finally hit a pair of 3-pointers as part of a 7-0 run that brought them within 16.
But UCLA’s 21-point halftime lead was too large of a hole for Cal to climb out of. Despite outscoring the Bruins 44-35 in the second half, the Golden Bears’ offensive burst was not enough.
With the win, UCLA will advance to the Pac-12 Tournament finals Sunday at 5 p.m. and face the winner of tonight’s Stanford vs. Colorado game.
Compiled by Kevin Bowman, Bruin Sports reporter.