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Women’s basketball March Madness Predictions 2023

Members of the UCLA women’s basketball team regroup in a huddle. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

By Francis Moon, Gavin Carlson, and Leila Bivins

March 17, 2023 6:55 p.m.

No. 4 seed UCLA women’s basketball (25-9, 11-7 Pac-12) is returning to the Big Dance after missing out on March Madness last season. The Bruins will begin the NCAA Tournament with a contest against No. 13 seed Sacramento State (25-7, 13-5 Big Sky) on Saturday night in Pauley Pavilion. Daily Bruin Sports makes its predictions for how long the Bruins will remain dancing this season.

Francis Moon
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: Round of 32

It’s no secret the Bruins have their work cut out for them if they are going to make a deep run this year.

Taking care of business at home in the first two rounds would give them a chance to challenge top overall seed and reigning champion South Carolina, in its home state nonetheless.

UCLA showed that it can keep up in enemy territory against the Gamecocks in November, though it was unable to hold onto a fourth-quarter lead and lost 73-64. Now, it has a chance to get revenge and shock the nation in the Sweet 16.

But I’m not so sure it’s a given that it gets there in the first place.

That fourth-quarter collapse is a microcosm of this team throughout the three years I’ve covered it. Though the Bruins have the talent to give any team a run for their money, their pattern of inconsistency – particularly late in games – means a second-round upset is in the cards.

It happened in 2021 when No. 3 seed UCLA was upset by No. 6 seed Texas in the round of 32 after recording 14 collective points in the first half. It happened last year in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament when the team fell to South Dakota State in the semifinals despite leading with just over a minute to play.

After earning a share of the Big 12 regular season title, No. 5 seed Oklahoma fell to Iowa State in the semifinals of its conference tournament as two of its three best players, forward Madi Williams and guard Ana Llanusa, played through injuries. Presumably closer to full strength with a chip on their shoulder now, the Sooners have what it takes to take down the blue and gold.

Second in the country in points per game and sixth in rebounding, Williams leads a bevy of players who can turn it up and take over a game at any moment while attacking the Bruins’ weaknesses. But on the flip side, the Sooners’ vulnerable defense gives up the ninth-most points per contest with its fast-paced style.

Though UCLA is certainly moving in the right direction with one of the brightest futures in the country for the next few years, its lack of experience and inability to keep up with an offensive barrage from Oklahoma could be its Achilles’ heel.

The Bruins will have to make sure they don’t get ahead of themselves despite the looming challenge that awaits in the bracket, because the Sooners are going to make them earn it.

Gavin Carlson
Daily Bruin staff
Prediction: Sweet Sixteen

This is easily the most confident I’ve ever been about a prediction since I joined the Daily Bruin.

So, naturally, this most likely won’t come to fruition. That’s just how this stuff works.

Nonetheless, I’m sticking with what seems like an obvious result for the Bruins in this NCAA Tournament – two wins at home against lower seeds before a loss to the best team in the country.

First round upsets are extremely rare, especially in women’s basketball.

Outside of a shocking defeat of No. 1 seed Stanford by No. 16 Harvard in 1998, No. 14-16 seeds are 0-336 in NCAA Tournament history otherwise. And No. 13 seeds are 10-112 since 1994.

Favorites win in the initial round of women’s basketball, and UCLA will be no exception.

After breezing through the first round against No. 13 seed Sacramento State, the Bruins will be tested by No. 5 seed Oklahoma. However, given the superiority of the Pac-12 compared to the Big 12, I’ll give UCLA the edge – especially at home.

The Pac-12 has six teams ranked in the final AP Top 25 poll compared to just three for the Big 12. And the West Coast’s conference also has more elite teams, with No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 2 seed Utah representing the Pac-12 while the Big 12’s highest seeded team is No. 4 seed Texas.

The Bruins are more battle-tested than the Sooners and will win in front of their Westwood fans as a result.

So to the UCLA-South Carolina rematch we go. I could make things complicated, but I won’t – the Gamecocks are just too talented to willingly pick against.

The Bruins certainly gave the defending national champions one of their toughest tests of the season when they forced a tie ballgame heading into the fourth quarter back in November. And yes, the blue and gold has gotten better since that battle.

But so have the defending champs, and UCLA will still ultimately be traveling across the country with five freshmen to play the best team in the country in its home state.

Not to mention calling South Carolina the best team in the country somehow feels like an understatement, given its 32-0 record and constantly improving roster led by star forward Aliyah Boston.

Greenville will be buzzing, the Bruins will be understandably nervous, and as a result, the Gamecocks will move to 35-0 and clinch an Elite Eight berth. UCLA’s run will end where just about everyone expects it to. But hey, at least making it to the round of 16 is still sweet.

Leila Bivins
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: Elite Eight

I must admit, I underestimated the Bruins’ capabilities going into the Pac-12 tournament.

However, their win against No. 1 seed Stanford in the semifinals showed that UCLA is prepared to battle with the high-ranking teams going into the NCAA tournament.

Some may argue that the Bruins’ loss against No. 5 seed Washington State in the Pac-12 championship showed the opposite, but I believed it exposed the Bruin’s weaknesses just in time so they know what they need to bring to the table going into the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA will acquire two early wins at home, and in a tough battle against No. 1 seed South Carolina, will avenge their early season loss to be set up to face No. 2 seed Maryland, where their season will come to an end.

The Bruins will easily glide past No. 13 seed Sacramento State in their first round game at home.

Their next matchup in Los Angeles will be against No. 5 seed Oklahoma. This will be a tough matchup, but the competitive nature of the Pac-12 conference will give UCLA the upper hand against its opponent, as they have battled with tough teams all season.

The rematch against South Carolina will not be easy. This will be the Bruins’ toughest contest of the season, and they will need all hands on deck. The Bruins showed in their first matchup against the Gamecocks that they are capable of competing with the top team in the nation, but the key to this match will be the blue and gold’s defense.

UCLA will come out strong with a tight defense strategy to lock-up Player of the Year contender Aliyah Boston. This will allow for a close win that will be determined in the final seconds.

After a serious upset, the Bruins will ultimately face No. 2 seed Maryland in what will be their last matchup of the season. After a tough battle against the best team in the country, the blue and gold will fall short, and the Terrapins will take advantage of the less intense matchup to close the Bruins’ season.

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Francis Moon | Sports senior staff
Moon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, track and field and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and women's tennis beats, while also contributing for Arts. He is a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
Moon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, track and field and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and women's tennis beats, while also contributing for Arts. He is a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
Gavin Carlson | Sports staff
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
Leila Bivins | Sports contributor
Bivins is currently a Sports contributor on the men's volleyball beat.
Bivins is currently a Sports contributor on the men's volleyball beat.
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