The UCLA women’s basketball team landed in Seattle with something to prove to its conference rivals in the Pac-12 tournament and certainly wasted no time in doing so.
Against the fifth-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils (19-12, 9-9 Pac-12) in the quarterfinals, the fourth-seeded Bruins (23-7, 13-5) came out scorching, jumping out to a 26-7 first-quarter lead and never trailing en route to their eventual 77-68 win.
Despite UCLA’s dominance for the majority of the game, Arizona State, known in the conference to be a gritty and tough team, would come back from as much as a 26-point deficit late in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game.
A three-point play from sophomore guard Sabrina Haines was part of a 7-0 run that cut UCLA’s lead to 72-63 with nearly a minute remaining. On the ensuing offensive possession, two free throws from freshman guard Robbi Ryan brought the Sun Devils within 72-66 – but the late rally was ultimately not enough.
“We knew we needed to come out as the aggressors and come out swinging,” said UCLA junior forward Monique Billings. “We couldn’t take this game lightly. We couldn’t take this team lightly. It’s really hard to beat a team three times in one season, so we knew that they would be hyped coming into it. We had to be just as hyped, if not even more, against them.”
UCLA’s seamless rotations within its 2-3 zone gave Arizona State trouble on offense, forcing it into difficult shots and a 22.2 percent first-quarter field goal percentage. The Sun Devils committed more turnovers than made field goals in the first quarter, allowing the Bruins to capitalize on 13 points off their opponent’s six turnovers.
In the half-court set, the Bruins were still able to find success in either the dribble-drive penetration or catch-and-shoot opportunities beyond the arc. UCLA redshirt senior guard Nicole Kornet netted all four of her 3-pointers in the first half, finishing with 16 points.
“I’m just trying to be a spark off the bench, especially now,” Kornet said. “As soon as the first one goes down, you’re feeling good, so I got on a roll and I got hot.”
The Sun Devils responded in the second quarter, showing their toughness and hustling after loose balls, which ignited their offense. Arizona State outscored UCLA 14-13 in the second quarter, improving its field goal percentage to 42.9 percent and closing the half on an 8-0 run.
Arizona State was able to carry some of that momentum into the second half where it came out with a long-distance connection from Haines as a part of six unanswered points in the first two and a half minutes.
UCLA junior guard Jordin Canada kept the Bruins in it during that stretch, working her way into the lane and making her first three field goals in the second half. Canada scored or assisted on eight of her team’s first 10 points out of the break. The floor general finished with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting to go along with four rebounds and seven assists.
Billings added 19 points and 11 rebounds in her team’s win.
“I feed off the energy from my team,” Billings said. “(Canada) came out on fire and I feel like I feed off the energy of our team. We were just playing hard together and doing what it took to get the job done.”
Physical play down low earned the Sun Devils 22 total trips to the charity stripe where they were able to convert on 19 of them. Twelve of the team’s 28 points from the final frame came from the free-throw line, which played a huge role in cutting into the lead late in the game. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough to offset UCLA’s 50.1 shooting clip and overall strong performance across the board.
Thirty-six of the Bruins’ 77 points came from in the paint, primarily off of pick-and-roll sets between Billings and Canada as well as rim-cuts by sophomore guard Kennedy Burke.
In addition to her 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, Burke notched six assists, assuming some playmaking responsibilities in her 33 minutes on the court.
UCLA will play against top-seeded Oregon State tomorrow in the semifinals. The Bruins split the season series against the Beavers during the regular season with a 66-56 home win and 68-61 road loss in Corvallis, Oregon.
“I think we have (the advantage) in transition,” Kornet said. “We can run and we’re really athletic. Against Oregon State, they’re tough to beat, but it’s definitely doable. We came out the aggressor and if we hard and smart together with the team basketball like UCLA can, I think it’ll be a good one down to the wire.”