UCLA women’s basketball receives automatic bid to WNIT
UCLA women’s basketball players huddle together during a game in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The Bruins finished the season with their worst overall record since the 2014-2015 season. (Sakshi Joglekar/Assistant Photo editor)
By Lauryn Wang
March 13, 2022 6:43 p.m.
This post was updated March 14 at 11:08 p.m. to reflect a change in the tipoff time of UCLA women’s basketball’s game against UC Irvine.
For the second time in seven years, the Bruins will not be dancing in March.
Despite the expansion of the field from 64 to 68 teams this year with the addition of a play-in round, UCLA women’s basketball (14-12, 8-8 Pac-12) did not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday.
The Bruins were projected in the First Four Out by ESPN, but they ultimately did not jump to a play-in spot. Six teams from the Pac-12 – Stanford, Arizona, Oregon, Washington State, Utah and Colorado – made the NCAA Tournament, all at a No. 8 seed or higher.
Coach Cori Close said despite a strong end to the season, the Bruins missed out on the NCAA Tournament because of their inability to notch key wins against certain Pac-12 foes.
“I just thought our toughness and togetherness was at an all-time high the last 2 1/2 weeks,” Close said. “We showed glimpses in the Utah game, especially in the first half, but we didn’t sustain it. That’s one of the ones that if we had, we’d be playing in the tournament right now, so it’s a little bit hard.”
But the blue and gold’s season is not yet over.
Following the team’s loss to Oregon in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament on March 10, Close said the Bruins planned to play in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament if they ultimately weren’t able to punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
As the top seed in the Pac-12 to not make the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins were guaranteed a spot in the WNIT. One other team from the conference, Oregon State, received an at-large bid to the WNIT. The two teams are in the same division of the bracket and could meet in a potential quarterfinal matchup.
“We’re all thankful to have the opportunity to continue to play, but you have to deal with your own regret,” Close said. “You have to deal with the disappointment of, ‘I wish I was playing in that other tournament.’ But you have to have a spirit of gratitude that you still get to play.”
The last time UCLA played in the WNIT in 2015, the team won it all after topping West Virginia by two points in the championship game.
Close said the team’s success in the 2015 WNIT created opportunities for former forward/center Corinne Costa in her professional aspirations. She also said it exposed young players, such as former guard Jordin Canada, to the pressure of playing in the postseason.
“This could be monumental,” Close said. “For our seniors, really having the chance for them to extend their collegiate careers and give them an opportunity to increase their productivity for their future. … And then I’m excited for our whole entire team.”
UCLA will have the chance to repeat history this year starting with its first-round matchup against UC Irvine. As the higher seed, the blue and gold earned home-court advantage and will battle it out in Pauley Pavilion.
The ability to play postseason basketball in Pauley Pavilion is a unique experience, one that Close said she is embracing as she looks to the future of the program.
“It’s just a great opportunity to not only connect with your fans right now, but it’s building momentum and getting them excited for what they’re going to see in the future,” Close said. “We have a lot of exciting things coming.”
The Bruins will tip off against the Anteaters at 7 p.m. on Friday.