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Women’s basketball 2022 WNIT predictions

UCLA women’s basketball will commence its quest for a WNIT championship with a home matchup against UC Irvine on Friday. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)

By Gavin Carlson, Lauryn Wang, and Grace Whitaker

March 17, 2022 10:29 p.m.

UCLA women’s basketball (14-12, 8-8 Pac-12) will begin its quest for a second Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship under coach Cori Close and will have the opportunity to host the first few rounds, beginning with a home matchup against UC Irvine (21-11, 14-4 Big West) on Friday. With a win, it would face either Air Force or San Francisco in the ensuing round. Here are the women’s basketball beat writers’ takes on how far the Bruins will go in the WNIT.

Gavin Carlson
Women’s basketball beat writer
Prediction: WNIT champions

UCLA should be in the Big Dance, and a WNIT championship will prove it.

The Bruins head into the second-tier tournament despite being ranked No. 41 in the NET rankings. Yes, the rankings aren’t perfect, but UCLA being 17 spots higher than Washington State, a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, says about all you need to know.

Oh, and not to mention the relatively high ranking doesn’t even take into account the incredibly bad injury luck the blue and gold has faced all season. So yeah, it got snubbed.

Nonetheless, UCLA has a clear opportunity to win the WNIT, as South Dakota State is the only team in the tournament pool ranked higher in the NET rankings.

Playing with a chip on their shoulder to start the tournament, the Bruins will breeze past an Irvine team that lost by a combined 26 points to two of the worst teams in the Pac-12 this season – USC and Arizona State.

UCLA will find similar success in the second round against either Air Force or San Francisco, as both teams went a combined 1-4 against Pac-12 opponents. UCLA could play any of four teams in round three, but it’s safe to assume the team that just took Oregon to the wire will handle another inferior non-Power Five opponent.

The WNIT really begins in the quarterfinals for UCLA, as conference foe Oregon State will likely be the opponent. The Bruins got embarrassed by 14 points in Corvallis in January, but they were without their usual starting backcourt of junior guard Charisma Osborne and graduate student guard Jaelynn Penn.

The blue and gold’s replacement starting backcourt shot a combined 9-of-30 in that contest. With a healthier lineup, the Bruins are the more talented team and will avenge their midseason defeat.

Once UCLA sneaks past Oregon State, it’ll likely face its only other true hurdle in the tournament. It suffered a surprising early-season 10-point defeat to South Dakota State in November, even with Osborne and Penn, and they could meet again to play in the championship game.

Graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas dropped 18 points in the game to help the Bruins outscore the Jackrabbits in the paint, and I expect the addition of redshirt freshman Angela Dugalić to help the Bruins dominate that category even more en route to a semifinal victory.

The blue and gold likely will have defeated the second and third best teams in the WNIT pool to get to the championship game, so it will almost certainly be the favorite once there.

Regardless of who it would have to face, it’s difficult to imagine a healthy UCLA team playing well enough to get by Oregon State and South Dakota State but suddenly falling to an inferior team.

Just as they did in their most recent WNIT appearance in 2015, the Bruins will win the championship and send off their seniors with some hardware.

Grace Whitaker
Women’s basketball beat writer
Prediction: WNIT champions

For the first time in seven years, the Bruins missed out on a March Madness bid.

However, this doesn’t mean they won’t finish the season as champions.

UCLA will use its loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament as drive for the WNIT and will swiftly defeat the Anteaters by a wide margin

After its first-round victory, the blue and gold will likely face San Francisco in the second. The Dons were defeated this season by two other Pac-12 teams – California and Colorado – and will put up a fight to keep the game close early.

Once Thomas and Osborne get going, they will dominate the scoreboard, and the Bruins will once again emerge victorious.

In the third round, UCLA will likely be met by Idaho State. The Bengals – who lost to Oregon earlier this season by a score of 91-34 – won’t pose much of a challenge for the blue and gold, nor will any of its other potential third-round opponents. UCLA will find itself in the quarterfinals against its first familiar opponent, Oregon State.

The Beavers defeated the Bruins this season by a score of 72-58 and will jump out to an early lead again. However, now with a healthier team, UCLA will come back and win by a slim margin and land itself a spot in the championship game.

With the championship in sight, the Bruins will defeat their last two opponents and emerge victorious as the WNIT champions.

Lauryn Wang
Women’s basketball beat writer
Prediction: WNIT champions

Earlier this season, IImar’I Thomas said, “All we have is all we need.”

After two weeks off, the Bruins are closer to full health and have a more robust roster.

That’s all they’ll need to win the WNIT.

Close said the team has finally held full practices with most of their players, something it didn’t have the luxury of doing earlier in a season riddled with injuries.

Both the Bruins and Anteaters will enter Friday’s matchup looking to bounce back from tough losses in their respective conference tournaments.

In the Pac-12 quarterfinals, UCLA led Oregon at the half but relinquished the lead late in the game to lose by three. In the Big West championship game, Irvine led Hawai’i at the half but was outscored 38-22 in the second half to fall by 11.

The loss to the Rainbow Warriors marked only the third time this season the Anteaters have lost after leading at halftime, in part because they failed to lock down on defense, forcing a season-low nine turnovers. If the Bruins can take care of the ball and achieve a lead at halftime, they will be able to overcome the Big West runner-ups and advance to the next round.

San Francisco, UCLA’s likely second-round opponent, played two Pac-12 teams in nonconference games this season – California and Colorado – and lost by 29 and 24 points, respectively. The Bruins will keep the Dons winless against Pac-12 teams and make it to the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet the Beavers.

UCLA has not beaten Oregon State in more than two years, with its last victory coming in overtime in February 2020, but the tide will change in the Bruins’ favor this year.

The two teams have only met once this season in late January when the Bruins cut a 10-point halftime deficit down to four in the third quarter. But they could not complete the comeback, ultimately losing by double digits.

But UCLA of late looks much different than it did back then. Penn and Dugalić, who both missed the regular-season matchup with Oregon State but played key roles in the conference tournament, will help lead the Bruins past the Beavers.

From there, UCLA will be able to handle whatever comes its way, with a few potential opponents in the Power Five.

While the Bruins missed out on the Big Dance, they will easily waltz to the championships of the WNIT.

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Gavin Carlson | Sports staff
Carlson is currently a staffer on the women's basketball and softball beats. He was previously a reporter on the men's golf beat.
Carlson is currently a staffer on the women's basketball and softball beats. He was previously a reporter on the men's golf beat.
Lauryn Wang | Assistant Sports editor
Wang is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and women's golf beats.
Wang is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and women's golf beats.
Grace Whitaker | Assistant Sports editor
Whitaker is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
Whitaker is currently an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
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