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Women’s gymnastics NCAA tournament predictions

For the first time since 2019, No. 13 UCLA gymnastics will compete in the NCAA regionals with a chance at an NCAA championship. (Lauren Man/Assistant Photo editor)

By Kyle Boal, Nico Edgar, Coral Smith, and Sam Settleman

April 1, 2021 5:21 p.m.

Sam Settleman
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: 4th Place in NCAA Semifinal

It’s no secret that the Bruins have the talent to compete with the best programs in the country, but with their backs against the wall, can all that talent suddenly gel at the right time?

I say yes.

No. 13 UCLA gymnastics should have no problems dispatching Kent State and West Virginia in Friday’s regional semifinal contest. Its true test will come Saturday.

The Bruins will likely enter the regional final in Morgantown, West Virginia as the lowest seed in the four-team field Saturday, needing a top-two finish to keep their season alive. Barring an upset in the regional semifinal, UCLA will need to overcome either No. 4 Michigan or No. 5 California to advance to the national semifinal.

The Wolverines are, without a doubt, one of the favorites to hoist the NCAA trophy when it’s all said and done. Michigan has posted two scores above 198 in its 2021 campaign and has only fallen below 197 in two meets – a threshold UCLA has exceeded just three times all season. When the Wolverines aren’t hitting, however, it’s ugly, as they are the only top-10 team in the country to score below 196 in more than one meet this season.

Assuming Michigan doesn’t crash and burn, and its No. 1-ranked vault squad with six Yurchenko 1.5 vaults proves to be too tall of a task for UCLA to overcome, the Bruins will instead have to take down their Northern California counterparts, which, on paper, appears far more realistic.

The first time UCLA and Cal matched up this season, the Bears posted their best score in program history in a convincing win. And while the Bruins failed to outscore their conference rival once more in the Pac-12 championships two weekends ago, UCLA carried a considerable 148.300-147.850 lead into the final rotation behind season highs on floor and vault, before a 49.525 from Cal on its lowest-ranked event entering the competition propelled them to a second-place finish.

The missing piece for the Bruins of late has been a serviceable performance on beam. My suggestion: move junior Samantha Sakti and her impressive, yet inconsistent acro series back into the anchor spot to prevent a potential fall from influencing the performances of the final four gymnasts in the rotation. Make that small change and maybe the team ignites for a season-best performance to pull off the upset. Oh, and the return of junior Norah Flatley – who ranked in the top-40 in the country on the apparatus in her first two seasons – might help too.

With that being said, I think any chance of a Cinderella run for UCLA ends there. The field of teams set to square off in the NCAA semifinal in Fort Worth, Texas, is simply too deep for a young Bruin squad that has been plagued by inconsistency all season.

Nico Edgar
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: 3rd Place in Regional Final

Earlier this season, I suggested that the Bruins might be better than their rival Red Rocks in an ill-fated attempt at optimism.

Then, Utah dominated at the Pac-12 championships and, well, UCLA didn’t.

However, disregarding the Bruins’ team-worst 19th-ranked beam rotation, nothing suggests this team should rank No. 13 in the nation. UCLA hung with Utah – and led Cal – for three rotations, proving that the glimpses of a high ceiling throughout the season were very real.

Given the Bruins haven’t scored below a 196.725 since Feb. 14 and neither Kent State or West Virginia in UCLA’s draw have a season high over-196.375, the team should have no problem advancing to the Saturday regional final. That’s where things get tricky as the squad will almost certainly need a season high to advance.

UCLA will likely face BYU, Michigan, and Cal. The Bears have beat the Bruins twice this season – once in a dual meet and once at the Pac-12 championship – and with Michigan presumably claiming one semifinal spot, UCLA will need to reverse its negative trend against Cal to keep its season alive. BYU shouldn’t be discounted either, as the Cougars haven’t posted a sub-196.900score since their Feb. 10 loss to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, but haven’t scored higher than 197.300 either.

For the Bruins to continue their streak of advancing to at least every NCAA semifinal since 2006, the team will need to recreate its floor, vault and bars rotations from the Pac-12 championships and figure out its beam situation. If the team is forced to count a fall on beam – as they have in 33% of meets this season – the Bruins kiss a chance at performing with the last eight goodbye.

But if UCLA can carry the momentum from three strong rotations into beam and junior Norah Flatley’s reentry into the beam lineup stabilizes the rotation in a similar fashion to boosting the bar lineup in her return at the Pac-12 championships, the Bruins could check in with a season high and advance.

Still, with UCLA registering sub-49.000 scores on beam in three of its past four meets and counted falls both times it’s faced Cal this season, I predict that the Bruins’ struggles on the apparatus will continue to haunt them and that they return to Westwood without a semifinal berth, as the Bears and Wolverines advance to the final eight.

Kyle Boal
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: 4th Place in NCAA Semifinal

I’m a big believer that culture can sometimes lead a team to overcome weakness in talent or experience.

And if there’s one thing the Bruins have right – it’s the culture.

Like coach Mick Cronin and UCLA basketball going from the First Four to the Final Four, or coach Adam Wright and UCLA men’s water polo winning the school’s 119th national championship without a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament, Waller and UCLA gymnastics have a shot to surpass expectations simply based on the team’s culture.

The Bruins have a clear weakness on beam, where the team ranks 19th in the nation and is often forced to count a fall. To advance beyond the semifinal, UCLA will almost certainly require an inspired performance similar to that versus its rival Red Rocks, where on its final rotation, the Bruins posted a season-high 49.425 on the apparatus.

The team should fairly easily be in the top-two in the first round and move on, where UCLA would then need to overcome at least two of likely Michigan, BYU and California.

A dual meet victory over the Cougars should have the Bruins finish higher than them, but between the Bears and the Wolverines, the team will need a complete performance to advance.

In UCLA’s dual meet with Cal, the Bears recorded an NCAA record 49.825 on bars to lead the way for their school record 198.050 as they seemingly outclassed the Bruins on that night. Despite Cal’s top-10 rank in every rotation – including holding the top spot on bars – UCLA outranks the Bears on vault and ties them on floor, two events the Bruins need to nail in order to advance.

With junior Norah Flatley’s return to the lineup after dealing with an ankle injury, UCLA will get the help it needs on bars and beam, the team’s two worst rotations, as the three-time All-Pac-12 honoree holds career highs of 9.975 and 9.950 in each respective apparatus.

The Bruins’ season-high score of 197.100 is exactly a full point lower than the Wolverines, and Michigan scored higher than UCLA’s season high in its last three meets. The Wolverines also rank top-five in three events, while the Bruins fail to surpass that threshold in any apparatus.

With all that considered, a sloppy performance by Michigan – much like in its Elite Eight game against UCLA – and a season-high score will advance the Bears and Bruins to the final eight teams in the NCAA championship.

That’s where the magic stops. After Sunday’s regional final, the NCAA championship will have teams that are simply too talented and experienced for UCLA to keep up with, such as Florida, LSU and Oklahoma. But even if the Bruins finish last, the young roster will gain priceless experience before welcoming in next season’s No. 1 recruiting class.

Coral Smith
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: 4th Place in NCAA Final

I remember when the Bruins won the 2018 national championship during my freshman year, coming back after falling behind in the first two rotations to just eke out the victory.

A similarly inspiring performance in the NCAA semifinal could push UCLA beyond what my colleagues believe is possible, if the Bruins can bring together the best of each gymnast’s capabilities.

The overarching storyline of this season has been the talent the team has shown on occasion, but the inability thus far to put it all together into one impressive meet. If UCLA can finally break through that barrier and contribute quality performances on all four events consistently, I believe they could make it past Michigan in the NCAA semifinal and reach the national championship meet.

Combining the Bruins’ best scores on each rotation from throughout the season would give UCLA a 197.925. While the number is significantly higher than any score the team has put up in a single meet so far, a postseason increase in performance caliber could put them close.

Additionally, if you took the season-high scores from each of the UCLA gymnasts who competed in the Pac-12 championships, this hypothetical combination would result in a 198.375 team score, higher than any team has recorded this season. Though realism tells us that there’s no way every single Bruin gymnast will match or exceed her high score, it shows the incredible potential that the team has if they can all perform at or near their best.

In that case, if the Wolverines have a less-than-perfect meet, it’s entirely possible the Bruins will be able to advance beyond the NCAA semifinal.

While I don’t think UCLA would then be able to overcome the impressive talent of teams such as Florida, Oklahoma, or LSU to win the national championship, a season-best performance in the NCAA semifinal could be just enough to beat out the tough competition and make the Bruins one of the final four teams standing.

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Kyle Boal | Sports senior staff
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the football, men's water polo and swim & dive beats. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the football, men's water polo and swim & dive beats. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
Nico Edgar | Sports reporter
Edgar is currently a Sports reporter on the gymnastics beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Edgar is currently a Sports reporter on the gymnastics beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Coral Smith | Sports senior staff
Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the gymnastics and softball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. Smith was previously a staff writer on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.
Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the gymnastics and softball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. Smith was previously a staff writer on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.
Sam Settleman | Assistant Sports editor
Settleman is currently an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, women's water polo and men's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, women's water polo and men's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
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