Monday, February 27

Hot-handed Sooners shoot down Bruins’ bid to extend promising season

It may have been snowing in Columbus, Ohio, but it was raining threes inside Value City Arena.

UCLA was just as much a spectator as the crowd, as there was little it could do but watch as Oklahoma drained a barrage of three-pointers en route to an 85-72 victory, ousting the Bruins from the NCAA Tournament in the second round.

After falling into a 10-point deficit late in the first half, the Bruins slowly clawed their way back into the game, eventually tying the score at 45 with 17 minutes left in the second half. But after freshman guard Nirra Fields found redshirt senior forward Jasmine Dixon for the equalizing layup, Oklahoma (24-10, 11-7 Big 12) quickly silenced UCLA’s momentum when sophomore guard Sharane Campbell hit her lone three pointer to reclaim the lead for good.

“Sharane is a very demonstrative basketball player. She plays with a great deal of emotion and that can’t help but be contagious,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. “You could just see that energy go from one player to another, like an electric current that went through all five guys on the floor and everybody on the bench. That helps fuel defense and rebounding.”

UCLA was not surprised by sixth-seeded Oklahoma’s shooting, as the Sooners’ 11 three-pointers matched their total in the schools’ previous meeting on November 14. But third-seeded UCLA (26-8, 14-4 Pac-12) was unable to dominate the paint as they had in the prior matchup, missing several inside shots despite their size advantage.

Although UCLA had struggles inside, the Bruins did not play poorly; they just could not match the blistering shooting of the Sooners.

“UCLA is a very good, well-coached basketball team that played really hard,” Coale said. “They gave us all we wanted for 40 minutes. Tonight, for 40 minutes, we were just a little bit better.”

Monday’s loss put an end to one of UCLA’s most impressive seasons in recent memory. The team was one basket in the conference title game against Stanford away from its first Pac-12 Championship since 2006, and earned the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, matching the highest seeding in program history.

UCLA coach Cori Close credits the Bruins’ success this year to the team’s four seniors.

“This senior class, they started something, they started the momentum, they started recruits wanting to come, they started something that will springboard us into the future,” Close said.

“And we need to stay humble and remember that we had some people that blazed a really incredible trail.”

The team blazed an impressive trail of its own this season, climbing to No. 11 in the national rankings by the end of the regular season after starting it unranked.

“Coach Cori talked about growth. You look at the beginning of the season and I think we came together as a great team. We collaborated,” redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa said. 

“Even though our defense didn’t show today, everything has been building since day one. It just didn’t pay off in the long run.”

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