BRIDGEPORT, CONNECTICUT — Nirra Fields stole the ball and looked up.
For most of her career this was where the senior guard liked to be: on the fast break on her way to a layup.
In No. 3 seed UCLA’s 72-64 season ending loss to No. 2 seed Texas, it wasn’t where she wanted to be at all.
The Bruins were down six with under two minutes left. Instead of looking to extend a lead, UCLA at that point was just trying to stay afloat.
That possession didn’t end with a layup for the senior guard, as so many have this season. It ended with free throws, as much of the game did for the Bruins.
For a while the free throws were all the Bruins needed. They shot 32 of them and made 24, contributing to a 54-48 lead heading into the fourth quarter. They were swinging at the Longhorns every time they touched the ball, feeding the post and attacking the basket.
“We were the aggressor, and a lot of those fouls came – one of them for sure – after offensive rebounds,” coach Cori Close said. “It really was all about aggression.”
Eventually the momentum turned in the Longhorns favor, and free throws and offensive rebounds stopped coming for the Bruins. Texas’ intensity, which had looked reckless early, didn’t lead to UCLA getting to the line in the fourth, but instead lead to steals for the Longhorns and a stagnant offense for the Bruins.
“Texas just adjusted to being more aggressive and taking us out of the sets that were working for us,” Canada said. “They were just more aggressive down the stretch.”
Early in the game the Bruins had success against the Longhorn’s towering center Imani Boyette who was forced to sit out for much of the third quarter after picking up her third foul. Sophomore forward Monique Billings was undaunted by her size and gave the Bruins the advantage in the post.
“The game was to go at her early and to get her in foul trouble and I think we did that well,” Billings said.
Boyette returned in the fourth to anchor Texas’ defense with her 6-foot-7-inch frame. Shots stopped falling for the Bruins, and Boyette was steadfast with her interior defense late in the game.
On the other end, the Longhorns got the offense possessions they needed to. They hit mid-range shots and found good looks close to the basket.
“Texas showed maturity,” Close said. “They got shots the way they wanted to in the half-court.”
For three quarters the game could have gone either way. Neither team was obviously better than the other. It was in the fourth that Texas found an offensive rhythm, taking the lead and even extending it. They shot 50 percent and outscored the Bruins 24-10.
“They came out on a 10-0 run (to start the fourth quarter) and we just couldn’t match it,” Canada said.
In a game of momentum, the Longhorns had gotten the final swing of it.
UCLA lost the game, but by no means was it a disappointing end to its season. The Bruins, a team who did not make the tournament last year and a team who came into the season not even ranked, surprised most. They may have not gotten the run that would win the game, but they made it all the way to the Sweet 16 – the first time since 1999.
Had the Bruins advanced, redshirt senior forward Kacy Swain would have been able to play against the Uconn Huskies after being sidelined with an injury for a month. Swain had been with the program for five years. She watched her team, with four returning starters and only one other graduating senior, battle the Longhorns. The next time UCLA plays, they won’t have Swain, but based on how the team played this season, those games won’t be disappointing either.