The red numbers above the backboard read 0.0. The final buzzer had already sounded. The Stanford players had already begun their celebration. But UCLA remained on the court, waiting for one last chance.
Trailing by two, senior forward Alyssia Brewer had the ball ripped from her hands and out of bounds as time expired. But amid the commotion, the referees huddled on the sideline around a television screen and determined that 0.2 seconds remained on the clock. As freshman guard Nirra Fields curled around a screen, received the inbounds pass and elevated to shoot, the buzzer sounded again. This time, it was for good.
UCLA lost 51-49 to Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament Final, crawling out of an early 11-0 deficit only to lose in the final seconds.
“It’s extremely disappointing. Being a senior, that’s pretty much the last shot at a Pac-12 title, but we played extremely hard. I’m extremely proud of our team and I think we just put it all on the floor,” said senior guard Mariah Williams.
Given the way they started the game, the Bruins didn’t look like a team that would make the game come down to the final seconds. Third-seeded UCLA (25-7, 14-4 Pac-12) struggled out of the gate, missing its first 12 shots and not scoring in the game’s opening eight minutes.
But behind their stifling defense, the Bruins finally heated up, finishing the first half on a 12-4 run to take a 27-26 lead heading into halftime.
“I think we were just playing together,” said senior guard/forward Markel Walker. “We defended really, really well … and rebounded, and we were able to play our game by running.”
Their defensive intensity was only amplified in the second half, as they constantly swarmed the Cardinal ball handlers and forced multiple traveling and shot clock violations. The strong defense, combined with a rejuvenated offense, helped UCLA push its lead to seven as the team seemed in control of the game.
But Stanford wasn’t done. With just under five minutes to go, first-seeded Stanford’s Amber Orrange stole the ball and swooped in for a breakaway layup, cutting No. 14 UCLA’s lead to just one and stealing momentum back to Stanford’s side. The teams jostled for the lead until, with seven seconds left, Orrange hit a spinning double clutch layup, which would ultimately be the game-winning shot, to put the Cardinal up by two. Walker then raced up the court, looking for the tie, but her layup attempt hung on the rim before slowly rolling out.
“I feel like the momentum did shift, but we most of the time pushed right back,” said coach Cori Close. “I thought Markel made a great play at the end of the game and I think we responded every time. I just felt like we needed about two more seconds.”
Despite the tough loss, the Bruins still have many positives to take away from the tournament after beating No. 5 California (28-3, 16-1) on Saturday and coming within two points of No. 4 Stanford (31-2, 17-1).
“I think there’s way more positives than negatives, but we’re hurting right now because we didn’t get rewarded at the end. But the positives of the journey in terms of boding well for March,” Close said. “It’s hard for me to put into words how proud I am of this team and the hard choices that they make. Right now, it just stinks, but as we start to ramp back up for March, I’m hoping that it’ll be the fuel that gives us a big run in the dance.”