Women’s basketball flies over Falcons by double digits to advance in WNIT
Graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas reaches for the ball over three Air Force defenders in UCLA women’s basketball’s win Sunday in the second round of the WNIT. Thomas recorded a game-high 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding six rebounds. (Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff)
By Lauryn Wang
March 20, 2022 4:22 p.m.
This post was updated March 20 at 5:03 p.m.
The Bruins will live to play another day after pulling away by double digits in the first half.
UCLA women’s basketball (16-12, 8-8 Pac-12) defeated Air Force (19-14, 11-7 Mountain West) 61-45 in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Sunday afternoon in Pauley Pavilion. With the win, UCLA is set to face Wyoming – which it overcame in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year – in the third round of the WNIT Thursday.
Graduate student forward IImar’I Thomas got things started with a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the game, and the Falcons didn’t achieve their first lead until the 5:53 mark with a pull-up jumper from forward Haley Jones to make the score 6-5. But graduate student guard Natalie Chou responded with a jumper on the other end to give the blue and gold the lead back, which it would maintain for the rest of the game.
As more players have been returning to health, Coach Cori Close said the team has made strides in a few key areas, including holding onto a lead, in the last few weeks.
“Where we have really grown … (is) the togetherness, the teamwork side of the ball, playing more connected, and executing the scouting report,” Close said. “I think we’re growing still.”
The shot from Chou halfway through the first quarter began a 13-4 run for the Bruins in the remainder of the frame, including seven straight in the last 1:13 to take an eight-point advantage into the second period.
Redshirt senior guard Chantel Horvat, who missed Friday’s contest against UC Irvine, established her presence early by completing a three-point play three minutes into the second quarter to extend her team’s lead to 24-15. Horvat finished the afternoon with eight points and tied for the team lead with seven rebounds in 19 minutes of play.
While the blue and gold went on a 7-0 run four minutes into the quarter to extend the lead to double digits, Air Force struggled to find the bottom of the net, experiencing its second 3 ½-minute-long scoring drought of the half until forward Riley Snyder hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the half.
Heading into the locker room, the Bruins secured a 38-23 lead while shooting 55.6% from the field, with five different Bruins contributing to the point total in the second quarter alone.
The Falcons opened the second half by opting to press, but the Bruins found their way around the defensive tactics. Junior guard Charisma Osborne – who leads the team in scoring but posted her third single-digit game of the season against the Anteaters on Friday – made a difference for the Bruins on both ends of the floor.
The All-Pac-12 team member hit a 3-pointer 11 seconds into the third quarter before forcing a jump ball and recording a block on the following two defensive possessions.
Despite the team’s posting a season-high 10 blocks in the game, Close said it wasn’t an indicator of interior defensive success, especially after the Bruins allowed 16 points in the paint and six offensive rebounds in the second half.
“Our size differential is so much bigger that I think it’s a little bit deceptive,” Close said. “I’d rather just make sure we force one hard shot and not give up so many layups and offensive rebounds the way we did today.”
Yet, the Bruins remained in control of the advantage for the rest of the quarter, maintaining at least a 16-point lead throughout the frame despite going scoreless over an almost four-minute period to record 11 points in the third quarter.
With a pull-up jumper, redshirt freshman forward Angela Dugalić extended the Bruins’ lead to 20 points for the first time in the game a minute into the final period before Osborne made back-to-back layups to contribute to her 13-point effort on the afternoon.
Osborne – who filled in as the team’s starting point guard for much of the season – credited Dugalić with fulfilling some of the ball-handling duties against the Falcons.
“I was actually really looking forward to that,” Osborne said. “I’m glad we have people who can be so versatile and bring the ball up the court. Angela did a great job.”
With just over three minutes to play, Dugalić drained a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to secure her second double-digit scoring game of the season, finishing the contest with 11 points.
Dugalić said making her third 3-pointer of the season was a highlight of the game for her and one she enjoyed celebrating with her teammates.
“I’m not a big 3-point shooter, so they know when I make one, it’s a big deal for me,” Dugalić said. “It’s just nice to know that they have my back and are happy for my success.”
The Falcons attempted to stage a comeback in the fourth quarter, as the Bruins gave up four layups throughout the period, but failed to dial in from deep as their efforts fell short.
Despite the win, Close said the Bruins lacked the discipline down the stretch that they demonstrated in the first half but added that they will learn from this experience going forward.
“Our attention to detail, our teamwork, our execution on the scouting report left a lot to be desired in the second half,” Close said. “We didn’t take care of the things that were under our control, and that’s what I’m excited to do with the opportunity we’re going to be given on Thursday.”