A bat darted through the outfield of Easton Stadium on Saturday night, chasing insects through the air for a late-night dinner. Over in right field, Aaliyah Jordan leaned back, ready to swat at the nocturnal animal.
The UCLA softball team played well into the night on Saturday after starting a doubleheader against Washington with a game that lasted nearly three hours. But the effort was worth it, as the Bruins won the second game, 6-1, after dropping the matinee, 7-4.
“There was a lot of action, there was a lot of hits on defense and that, emotionally, can wear on you,” said UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “Being out here as long as we have all day, we knew this was a mental challenge and we’re really focusing on our mental toughness and our ability to stay focused and play the game one inning at a time, but it is a challenge for all teams.”
After beating the Huskies just a day before, Washington snapped the Bruins’ seven-game win streak. UCLA put up two runs in the first two innings and two more in the final two. Meanwhile, the Huskies only had two innings without denting the scoreboard.
Aaliyah Jordan hit an RBI single in the first inning, then Kinsley Washington singled for an RBI in the second for the Bruins (27-3 overall, 9-2 in Pac-12)
Maya Brady cracked a solo home run in the sixth inning and Delanie Wisz (2-4, RBI) followed up in the seventh to score Briana Perez (1-3, two runs).
The homer was the second of Brady’s freshman campaign, and she went on to add another in the second game.
“I’d like to say that I’m happy with how I’m doing,” said Brady, “but I honestly can’t because I hav a lot more high expectations for myself and I want to contribute more to my team. I want to say tonight is the beginning of the real season.”
Baylee Klingler homered for the Huskies (35-8, 13-3) in the top of the first inning and Washington (1-3, RBI, two runs) scored an unearned run for UCLA in the bottom. It wasn’t until the fifth inning that the Bruins’ offense fully came to life.
Washington started the five-run flurry, scoring Kelli Godin (3-3, run) on a single. Jordan sent Washington home on a ground out, then Wisz hit an RBI single and Brady wrapped up the party with her two-run homer.
All the while, Holly Azevedo pitched a complete seven innings, recording six strikeouts and giving up seven hits.
“Our head coach brought us together before the inning started and told us, ‘What are we doing?’ and how we need to help our pitcher out because she was pitching a great game against a great team,” Brady said. “So just really wanted to help out our pitcher, Holly, and get our team some run s especially coming after the loss. Getting a lot of runs is a huge confidence booster for our team.”
In the first game, Megan Faraimo pitched 5 1/3 innings for the Bruins, recording five strikeouts while giving up 10 hits. Rachel Garcia entered in the second inning and dealt four strikeouts and yielded four hits.
UCLA finishes the four-game series against Washington at 1 p.m. on Sunday, an event that should end much faster than Saturday’s six-hour endeavor.
“We just have to play us,” Godin said. “The only people that are going to beat us are ourselves, so I think if we go in there tomorrow, and just play some UCLA softball, we’re going to be just fine.”
HONOLULU, Hawaii — There will not be a third consecutive national championship for the Long Beach State men’s volleyball program.
Second-seeded UC Santa Barbara defeated third-seeded Long Beach in four sets in a Big West Conference semifinal on Friday night, 16-25, 25-17, 25-18, 25-15. Long Beach (7-5), which won the 2018 and 2019 national titles before the 2020 season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, will not receive one of the two at-large berths in the seven-team NCAA Championships, which will be held May 3-8 at Ohio State.
Long Beach dominated for much of the first set, opening an 18-9 lead before closing it out at 25-16, but its offense fell apart from there. Much like the first set, there were few lead changes in the second as UCSB (14-4) got ahead early and stretched its lead to 22-14 at one point while holding LBSU to a match-low .029 hitting percentage on its way to a dominant 25-17 win.
Long Beach never found its first-set groove again. After hitting a sizzling .500 in the opening set, LBSU followed its second-set struggles by hitting .281 in the third and a dismal .129 in the fourth. Meanwhile, UCSB hit a match-best .519 with 15 kills in the third set, before posting 10 more in the last set.
Ryan Wilcox paced the Gauchos with 16 kills and three aces on a .324 hitting percentage, while Ryan Pecsok had a career-high 17 digs. Randy DeWesse added 12 kills and Donovan Todorov led the team with six block assists.
Spencer Olivier paced LBSU with 18 kills and hit .448, while Aidan Knipe had 38 assists. Simon Andersen had five blocks and Mason Briggs had 14 digs.
UCSB will meet unbeaten top seed Hawaii or fourth-seeded UC San Diego in Saturday’s title match. The host Warriors and the Tritons were headed to a fifth set late Friday night in the second semifinal.
HONOLULU, Hawaii — The third-seeded Long Beach State men’s volleyball team swept sixth-seeded UC Irvine, 25-22, 25-19, 25-21, in a quarterfinal of the Big West Conference Tournament on Thursday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Long Beach (7-4) advances to the semifinals, where it will face No. 2 seed UC Santa Barbara (13-4) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. PT. LBSU and UCSB split their two regular-season matches, each winning in four sets on their home courts on consecutive days last month.
Unbeaten top seed Hawaii (15-0) will meet fourth-seeded UC San Diego (4-12) in Friday’s second semifinal, with the championship match scheduled for Saturday.
LBSU hit an impressive .432 in the match, with Spencer Olivier logging 18 kills and Ethan Siegfried adding 10. Setter Aidan Knipe had 42 assists as every Long Beach player hit above .300 for the match.
Defensively, libero Mason Briggs had 10 digs, while Shane Holdaway had four blocks and Simon Andersen and Siegfried added three blocks apiece.
Opposite hitter Alexandre Nsakanda led UCI (2-14) with 11 kills, while outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller added seven kills and three digs. Setter Dylan Zhai had 21 assists and five digs.
The teams traded points early and battled through 10 ties in the opening set before Long Beach went on a 5-0 run to open a 15-10 advantage. Long Beach never trailed again in the opening set, and took control early in an uneventful second set.
UCI took an early lead to start the third set, but Long Beach used a 3-0 run to gain a 10-9 lead and pushed the margin to 14-11 before the Anteaters rallied to tie the score at 21-all. Following a timeout, Long Beach regrouped and closed out the match on a 4-0 run.
INDIANAPOLIS — The big, bad Baylor Bears bullied college basketball’s beautiful game into a corner.
The bid for an undefeated season, one game short. A first-time national champion, crowned.
Baylor overwhelmed Gonzaga with a burst of power and speed, winning its first national championship while ending the Bulldogs’ perfect season with an 86-70 victory on Monday night.
“Our guys, when the best is needed, the best is provided,” Baylor coach Scott Drew. “The better the opponent, the better they play.”
A two-year wait for a title game became the coronation of a team constructed to batter anything in its path, even the ultra-efficient Zags.
Gonzaga (31-1) appeared to feel the pressure of perfection and the fatigue – mentally and physically – from playing one of the most dramatic games in Final Four history less than 48 hours earlier.
The Bears (28-2) pounced with an onslaught of 3-pointers and blow-bys off the dribble, sprinkled with five sets of sliding feet and waving arms on defense.
“It’s a really really tough one to end a storybook season on, but listen, Baylor just beat us,” Mark Few said after Gonzaga’s second loss in the national title game the past three NCAA tournaments. “They beat us in every facet of the game and deserve all the credit.”
Baylor hit 10 3-pointers and turned 16 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points. All-American Jared Butler was the orchestrator, finishing with 22 points and seven assists.
Davion “Off Night” Mitchell spearheaded a defense that pressured the normally careful Zags into 14 turnovers and turned Gonzaga All-American Corey Kispert into a nonfactor.
The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers are still Division I’s last undefeated men’s team.
Baylor is the new king, 18 years after one of the darkest scandals the sport’s history. Drew, son of a Hall of Fame coach, was the architect, assembling a team of fast-footed, broad-shouldered Bears who ran through and around nearly every team in their path.
“It was just electrifying, especially in that type of environment in the big game,” Butler said. “Everybody was clicking on all cylinders and that’s what it takes to win.”
This highly anticipated match-up was supposed to be played in December, only to have COVID-19 force a cancellation. The wait turned out to be worth it, the two best teams all season – and the bracket’s top two seeds – each playing for its first national championship.
While Baylor cruised to another lopsided victory in the first Final Four game, UCLA laid out a possible blueprint of how to throw a wrench in the spokes of the Gonzaga machine. The Bruins made shots, lots of them, and that prevented the Zags from getting out in transition. They also played methodically on offense, refusing to run even when the opportunity arose. Gonzaga had to play UCLA shot for shot and won it in overtime on Jalen Suggs’ banked-in heave from th edge of the midcourt logo.
The Bears certainly had the shot-making part down.
Baylor’s quickness off the dribble gave the Zags fits, setting up shots at the basket or kickouts to the arc. Miss and the Bears grabbed offensive rebounds for putbacks. Even when Gonzaga had some brief success with a zone, Baylor solved it by getting the ball to deft-passing MaCio Teague in the high post.
The Bears had seven 3-pointers and nine offensive rebounds by halftime.
They also had the added caveat of being a defensive team unlike anything Gonzaga had seen, a flying force of springy, quick-footed defenders. Switching nearly every screen, Baylor kept the Zags in front of them and out of the lane. Their fast hands created turnovers, leading to shots in transition. When they did get beat, they blocked and altered shots at the rim.
“We couldn’t get anything going on either end,” Few said. “We couldn’t get consecutive stops on the defensive end and when we did get stops, it was really hard to generate offense consistently because, I mean, they were just so aggressive with their coverages defensively. We couldn’t get any rhythm there.”
Baylor opened the game with a 16-4 run and led by 19 at one point in the first half.
Gonzaga shot 1 for 8 from 3-point range, but managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 by halftime with aggressive play that led to 14 free throws (12 makes).
The Zags had a couple of early second-half opportunities to cut the lead to single digits. Every time they did, a missed shot, a big block or a Baylor bucket followed.
Gonzaga finally got the deficit down to nine. Just over a minute later it was 16.
“When you come up against a team like that, that’s firing on all cylinders for 40 minutes, it really hard to compete against,” Kispert said.
Then lead continued to grow, the cheers from the limited number of Baylor fans with it.
Being the 11th Seed That Could is nice. But Mick Cronin noted Sunday night, after his UCLA Bruins knocked off Alabama, that just overachieving is hardly satisfactory.
“Somebody said, ‘Well, now you’ve been to an Elite Eight,’” he said. “That’s not why I came to UCLA. I’ve got a lot of friends in the NBA, and they make fun of people that have rings that say ‘Conference champion.’ There’s only one. Whoever wins the NBA title is the world champion.
“So for me, we’ve got to win three more games.”
They still have a chance. And now that UCLA is back in the Final Four, maybe we should stop being surprised.
They were ready for the moment again Tuesday night, beating No. 1 seed Michigan, 51-49, in a slog of a game that further demonstrated the resilience that has made UCLA just the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four. And while Cronin has repeated at each of his post-game news conferences during this run that all the credit should go to the players, those players are a reflection of the guy in charge.
“On April 9, 2019, I told you, I spell fun w-i-n,” Cronin said Tuesday night, a reference to the day he was hired at UCLA. “You have to find a way to win, and these guys are having the most fun they’ve ever had in their life back in that locker room because they won.
“I told them I was going to teach them how to win. And you have to be able to win different ways … to find a way to beat (Michigan) with defense the way we did tonight, I’m obviously extremely proud of our team. It was just resilience.”
Johnny Juzang, who shot the Bruins back into the game in the first half after they trailed 11-4, and finished with 28 points even after hurting his right ankle early in the second half and leaving the game briefly, is an L.A. guy who originally chose Kentucky but had no hesitation returning home to play for Cronin. The shooter and the defensive-minded coach wouldn’t seem to be a natural match, but Juzang said the idea of being coached hard appealed to him.
“There’s just something inexplainable. I just felt something about Coach,” he said. “I knew that he was hard. I knew that he was intense. I knew that he was defensive-minded, and those are things that drew me. I wanted that. I wanted to be pushed. … I knew that he would push me and hold me accountable and challenge me, and I wanted to play for a program where he does that for everybody.”
Consider that he left Kentucky, another of the sport’s blue-bloods.
Also consider that Kentucky missed the tournament, while UCLA knocked off the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in its region to get to the last Saturday. The last 11 seed to do that was LSU in 1986, led by former Crenshaw High star John Williams, which beat the top three seeds in its region.
These Bruins and those Tigers are two of only five No. 11 seeds ever to make it to the Final Four, joining George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011 – the first team to get there from the First Four – and Loyola-Chicago in 2018.
None of us had the heart during the postgame Zoom session to ask Cronin if he’d started looking ahead to Gonzaga, the undefeated overall No. 1 seed that laid waste to USC’s Final Four chances in the first game of the evening.
But maybe the Bruins – having won two tourney games in overtime already – were paying close enough attention to that game to be reminded just how important it is to seize the moment. Gonzaga (30-0) took the initiative from the tipoff and USC was on its heels most of that game. In the nightcap, after Michigan (23-5) took its early 11-4 lead with UCLA making just 2 of 13 field-goal attempts, the Bruins (22-9) threw the next punch. Juzang scored 12 points in a 3:40 span to put his team in front, where it would stay most of the game.
The little things matter for this team, hugely, and a guy who didn’t score a point might have been indispensable. Kenneth Nwuba, the 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore from Lagos, Nigeria who had averaged 5.4 minutes in the 16 games he played, was on the court for 21 minutes after Cody Riley got into early foul difficulty. Nwuba had five rebounds, drew two charging fouls early in the game and was one of the guys Cronin was thinking of when he suggested that the stat sheet might as well be crumpled up.
“Kenny has never played that many minutes, I don’t think,” he said. “He dug deep for us – five big rebounds, great physicality, set some great screens. Again, stats can be overrated. Here is a guy that didn’t score but (the questioner) brought his name up for a reason. He had a big impact on the game physically.”
How big a milestone is this? UCLA will be in the Final Four for the first time since 2008 and the 19th time overall (though the 1980 appearance was vacated by the NCAA, so the official number is 18).
Cronin made it in his second season in Westwood. It took Ben Howland three years. It took John Wooden 14.
“I knew the expectations, right?” Cronin said. “I mean, it’s pretty clear at UCLA.
“I thank (former athletic director) Dan Guerrero for believing in me. I tried to convince him and the guys that were around him with this that I understood it and I wanted it. Coach (Rick) Pitino is like an older brother to me, and he used to say, ‘I’d rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb.’ It’s like I told my father (Hep), ‘If I don’t take this job I’ll feel like a lamb.’”
Oh, he’s a lion all right. His players will attest to that, and so will any official within earshot after a questionable call.
That passion has gotten his team back to the Final Four. It already is a double-digit underdog to Gonzaga in Saturday’s semifinal, according to the experts in the desert. But would you really want to bet against UCLA’s toughness, resilience and stubbornness?
Isaiah White #5 of the USC Trojans reacts in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against in the USC Trojans the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Oregon guard Chris Duarte (5) passes around Southern California guard Ethan Anderson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon guard LJ Figueroa, right, passes around Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) drives up court ahead of Oregon forward Chandler Lawson, right, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Southern California guard Isaiah White (5) drives to the basket past Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, left, fights for a rebound with Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, right, eyes a loose ball in front of Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon guard Chris Duarte (5) shoots over Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon guard Chris Duarte, center, shoots between Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, and forward Evan Mobley, right, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon guard Will Richardson drives ahead of Southern California guard Drew Peterson (13) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley shoots over Oregon guard Will Richardson (0) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Oregon guard Will Richardson drives to the basket ahead of Southern California guard Drew Peterson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy shoots over Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy (2) drives between Oregon guard LJ Figueroa, left, and guard Will Richardson, right, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon head coach Dana Altman watches from the bench during the first half of a Sweet 16 game against Southern California in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) shoots over Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, center, fights for a rebound with Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) and forward Chevez Goodwin (1) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy drives to the basket ahead of Oregon center Franck Kepnang, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Isaiah White #5 of the USC Trojans reacts to a play against the Oregon Ducks in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) shoots over Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon guard Will Richardson, right, drives up court in front of Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy (2) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) drives to the basket ahead of Oregon forward Eric Williams Jr., left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Southern California guard Isaiah White (5) shoots over Oregon guard Will Richardson (0) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Southern California guard Isaiah White celebrates after making a basket during the first half of a Sweet 16 game against Oregon in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon guard Chris Duarte drives to the basket past Southern California guard Isaiah White, right, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) tries to steal the ball from Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Southern California forward Evan Mobley (4) fights for the opening tipoff with Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) loses the ball over Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Southern California guard Drew Peterson celebrates after making a 3-point basket during the second half of a Sweet 16 game against Oregon in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Southern California guard Drew Peterson (13) passes ahead of Oregon guard Will Richardson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans reacts in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against the Oregon Ducks in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans reacts to a foul call in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against the Oregon Ducks in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Well, at least the Pac-12 regular-season championship is put to bed.
USC broke the virtual tie with Oregon and, for the second time this season, broke everything else the Ducks had planned.
This 82-68 win will be better-known as the ramp to the regional finals for the Trojans, who will see undefeated Gonzaga at the top of it Tuesday night..
It came atop the 72-58 win over the Ducks in Galen Center on Feb. 22, one in which the Trojans led 15-0 and by 21 at the half without Isaiah Mobley. This one was nearly as routine, although the no-quit Ducks hassled USC with their pressure defense in the second half and actually made USC coach Andy Enfield call a time out under duress.
Although Isaiah White and Tahj Eaddy pushed the Trojans ahead in the first half with their shooting, the two signature moments came from the Mobley family.
Isaiah took an inbounds pass against Oregon’s press and sauntered 70 feet for a reverse dunk. Evan, who had been a sedate presence until then, took advantage of a defensive gamble and tickled all the seismographs in the Midwest with a two-hand jam, one that he will replicate on a weekly basis, at least, for some lottery-bound NBA franchise next season.
But the Trojans really won with a zone defense that is becoming Enfield’s weapon of choice. With 6-foot-8 Drew Peterson on the point and with the Mobleys standing back there like library lions, Oregon was flummoxed enough to shoot 30 percent in the first half.
It was leading 10-9 when USC went into the zone and got a bucket on the first possession against it. The Trojans then scored 12 of the next 14 points, over a span of 4:05, and the Ducks missed seven consecutive shots. In the half, Oregon missed six of 10 layups in this claustrophobia-inducing setting, and because the Trojans were stroking their 3-pointers so consistently, the Ducks couldn’t find the speed game they needed.
It’s the type of zone that makes USC look so futuristic. The basketball authorities haven’t made the court any wider over the years, so when folks like Eaddy and Peterson and Isaiah White are sprinting out to hassle the shooters. That’s how you force so many offensive shoes to land on the sideline, a 21st-century type of turnover that comes from such wide spacing.
“The energy of March Madness and the crowd,” explained White, the transfer from Utah Valley. “We know what’s at stake every time we come out on the floor.”
So far White and the other shooters have prevented the Trojans’ foul shooting maladies from catching up. And if the Trojans keep winning games by an average margin of 21 points, their immunity will hold.
As usual, USC opened with man-to-man defense, which is Enfield’s usual preference. He also knew Plan B wouldn’t be far away.
“They have five forwards and guards, and we have two bigs in the game,” Enfield said. “I really don’t think we can guard them man-to-man, because all five of them can shoot the ball from outside. We don’t want to bring our bigs away from the basket. It’s hard to chase those guys all over the perimeter and we didn’t want to switch all of their ball screens, so we were able to get out on those shooters and still be strong inside. Then we just rotated our wings as we went along.”
Zones often dominate the tournament, as anyone who has played Syracuse in March can testify. Teams have little time to prepare for the ball movement that’s demanded, and they can’t really replicate what it looks like in real life.
“We probably played man-to-man 90 percent of the time during the season,” Enfield said. “But in the tournament we’ve played, we’ve played three similar teams. We went to the zone out of necessity against all their shooters.. I don’t like going small too often, and our man-to-man has been terrific most of the year. It’s basically because of the matchups we’ve had.
“We didn’t practice it for maybe a month before the tournament. Now we’re got better and better because we’ve played it so much.”
Drake, Kansas and Oregon have shot 32.1 percent, or missed 67.9 percent, in these tournament losses to USC. Which brings us to the creature at the top of the ramp.
Gonzaga shot 49 percent in its second round win over Wisconsin. That was their worst — repeat, worst — shooting performance of its undefeated season.
On Tuesday, Gonzaga’s year-long Hot Zone intersects with a hot zone. Only one can escape.
The word that UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close said defined her team in 2020-21 was “perspective.”
It’s hard to keep that perspective when your season ends so suddenly, and emphatically, in the NCAA Tournament. A dreadful second quarter, including a 6:20 scoring drought, forced the Bruins to chase the game Wednesday night, and a 1-for-19 3-point shooting night was their albatross as they attempted to rally.
It was a weird season for everybody but it was especially challenging for UCLA (17-6), which played with a short roster all season. Players were hurt, and players who were expected to join the Bruins couldn’t. That included Australian players Izzy Anstey and Gemma Potter, part of a group of athletes who went to court to try to overturn a decision that deferred their immigration certification – and basically kept them out of the country – because their school wasn’t holding in-person classes. The suit was dismissed earlier this month, and by then Potter had given up and signed with an Australian professional team.
The Bruins’ postseason roster was 10 players, and one of those, Dominique Darius, joined at mid-year shortly after her high school graduation.
“There’s no way to put all this into words, this unprecedented year,” Close said, ticking off their late start (Sept. 21) and the players who were unavailable. But then she got to the heart of the story:
“This team just never, never had any excuses. Things just kept happening and they just kept staying committed. I asked them to do two things all year. I asked them to find ways, as nontraditional as they might be, to grow each day, to intentionally grow, and to bring joy despite the circumstances. We were going to choose joy, no matter what.
“And as I sat there tonight,” she added, choking back tears, “I looked at ’em and I had to say, ‘You did your part.’ They kept finding ways to grow. They kept finding ways to give to each other and to bring joy, the way they impacted the people around them, the way they invested in each other, in our community, through the issues of the pandemic and the sacrifices they made. … Right now it just stings so much, but I think when we are able to really look back and have some perspective, we’re going to have a lot of victories to count.”
Yet as Close described it, Onyenwere graciously stopped and thanked the administrators on-site for their efforts to make it work.
“That’s Michaela,” Close said. “She’s an incredible basketball player … the years ahead of her are going to be unbelievable, and she’s just scratching the surface of how good she’s going to be. But the most amazing thing about her is it’s not even close to the kind of person she is, the kind of teammate she is, the kind of woman she is. And I just feel like I’m the luckiest head coach in the country, that I got the chance to be a part of her life.”
Onyenwere’s 21 points Wednesday night moved her into fourth on UCLA’s all-time women’s scoring list behind Denise Curry (3,198), Jordin Canada (2,153) and Maylana Martin (2,101). She’s a senior but could come back for another year by NCAA edict, and said she would make that decision “soon.” But she was choking back sobs during her brief media availability.
“I think UCLA has had everything to do with the player that I am and the person that I am today,” she said. “As Coach Cori said, this game doesn’t define our season and how hard we work, and just how tough we had to be this year. So I’m incredibly proud of my team this year. I’m incredibly proud to have the honor to go to UCLA and have the experiences that I did.
“Yeah, today was rough. But I’m extremely grateful for everything that UCLA has given me.”
UCLA is 143-50 over the last six seasons, playing in as rugged a women’s basketball conference as there is. The job now is to build on that, but Close made it clear it won’t be just about basketball.
“We’re also going to relentlessly create an uncommon transformational experience for young women that teaches, mentors and equips them for life beyond UCLA, and that will never be compromised,” she said.
“I want our players to have both. I want them to be able to hang banners and I want them to be able to experience competitive greatness. But I want it to always be as a byproduct of the work that’s done in the dark, and the work that comes from within and then overflows into what happens out on the court.”
The banners are indeed important. But when your players leave campus prepared to not only handle life but to lead, those are victories, too.
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — UConn did just fine without coach Geno Auriemma, with Paige Bueckers scoring 24 points to lead the top-seeded Huskies to a 102-59 victory over High Point on Sunday night in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Auriemma is recovering from the coronavirus and missed the opener. Associate head coach Chris Dailey filled in for the Hall of Famer, who is also going to miss the second-round game against Syracuse on Tuesday in the River Walk Region.
Dailey is 11-0 filling in for Auriemma over their time together at UConn (25-1). The Huskies also were missing assistant coach Shea Ralph, who left San Antonio after one of her relatives contracted COVID-19.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 22 points.
Skyler Curran led the Panthers (22-7) with 14 points.
SYRACUSE 72, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 55
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Emily Engstler scored 18 points and eighth-seeded Syracuse pulled away to beat ninth-seeded South Dakota State.
Engstler made three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for Syracuse (15-8).
Paiton Burckhard had 17 points for South Dakota State (21-4).
BAYLOR 101, JACKSON STATE 52
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Moon Ursin scored a career-high 24 points and second-seeded Baylor routed Jackson State.
All-American NaLyssa Smith added 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting and had 10 rebounds for the Bears (26-2). They will face Virginia Tech in the second round.
Keshuna Luckett led the 15th-seeded Tigers (19-6) with 15 points.
VIRGINIA TECH 70, MARQUETTE 63
SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) — Elizabeth Kitley had 23 points and seventh-seeded Virginia Tech built a big lead and held off 10th-seeded Marquette.
Kitley also had eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks for Virginia Tech (15-9).
Van Kleunen led Marquette (19-7) with 18 points.
TENNESSEE 87, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 62
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Rennia Davis had 24 points and 14 rebounds and No. 3 seed Tennessee used a dominant second half to beat 14th-seeded Middle Tennessee.
Rae Burrell scored 22 points and Jordan Walker had nine points and 14 rebounds for Tennessee (17-7). The Vols outrebounded the Blue Raiders (17-8) 56-21.
Tennessee will face Michigan in the second round.
Anastasia Hayes scored 26 points for Middle Tennessee.
MICHIGAN 87, FLORIDA GULF COAST 66
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Leigha Brown scored 28 points, including 17 straight for sixth-seeded Michigan, and the Wolverines beat 11th-seed Florida Gulf Coast.
Big Ten player of the year Naz Hillmon finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Wolverines (15-5).
Kierstan Bell had 25 points for Florida Gulf Coast (26-3). The Eagles has won 15 in a row.
KENTUCKY 71, IDAHO STATE 63
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Rhyne Howard and Chasity Patterson scored 14 points apiece and fourth-seeded Kentucky beat 13th-seeded Idaho State.
Blair Green added 10 points for the Wildcats (18-8). They will play Iowa in the second round.
Diaba Konate led the Big Sky champion Bengals (22-4) with 16 points.
IOWA 87, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 72
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Freshman Caitlin Clark, the nation’s leading scorer, had 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and fifth-seeded Iowa beat 12th-seeded Central Michigan.
Monika Czinano also scored 23 points for Iowa (19-9).
Micaela Kelly had 23 points for Central Michigan (18-9).
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kiana Williams scored 20 points while becoming Stanford’s career leader in 3-pointers and the top-seeded Cardinal overwhelmed Utah Valley.
Stanford never trailed after Williams, who made 6-of-11 from beyond the arc, hit a 3 for the first basket in the opening minute and tied the school mark of 295 held by Candice Wiggins. Playing in her hometown and with her parents in the stands, Williams set the record with her second 3 midway through the first quarter to put the Cardinal up 18-3.
Lacie Hull added 12 points for Pac-12 champion Stanford (26-2), the No. 1 overall seed for the first time since 1996. The Cardinals will face Oklahoma State in the second round.
Josie Williams had 18 points for Utah Valley (13-7).
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Natasha Mack had 27 points and 15 rebounds in eighth-seeded Oklahoma State’s victory over ninth-seeded Wake Forest.
Mack was 13 of 22 from the field for Oklahoma State (19-8). Ja’Mee Asberry added 18 points with four 3-pointers.
Christina Morra led Wake Forest (12-13) with 18 points.
SOUTH CAROLINA 79, MERCER 53
SAN ANTONIO (AP) —- South Carolina coach Dawn Staley got her 500th career victory when Aliyah Boston and the top-seeded Gamecocks beat Mercer.
Staley is 328-102 in 13 seasons at South Carolina after going 172-80 in eight seasons at Temple.
Boston had 20 points and 18 rebounds for South Carolina (23-4). Victaria Saxton also scored 20 points.
The Gamecocks were national champs in 2017, when the Final Four was last played in Texas. They finished 32-1 last season, spent the final 10 weeks at No. 1 and Staley was the AP coach of the year, but didn’t get a chance to win another title because the NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the pandemic.
The Gamecocks will play Oregon State in the second round.
Amoria Neal-Tysor had 15 points for Mercer (19-7).
OREGON STATE 83, FLORIDA STATE 59
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Aleah Goodman had 24 points, five rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers, and eighth-seeded Oregon State beat ninth-seeded Florida State.
Taylor Jones added 18 points and eight rebounds for Oregon State (12-7).
Bianca Jackson had 17 points for Florida State (10-9).
GEORGIA TECH 54, STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 52, OT
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Lorela Cubaj recovered from a scary fall to score 14 points, including the go-ahead free throws in overtime, and fifth-seeded Georgia Tech overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to beat 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin.
The Yellow Jackets (16-8) will face West Virginia in the second round.
Avery Brittingham had 16 points with 13 rebounds for the Ladyjacks (24-3).
WEST VIRGINIA 77, LEHIGH 53
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kysre Gondrezick scored 26 points and fourth-seeded West Virginia beat 13th-seeded Lehigh.
Kirsten Deans had 19 point, eight rebounds and five assists for West Virginia (22-6).
Emma Grothaus scored 14 points for Lehigh (11-5).
N.C. STATE 79, NORTH CAROLINA A&T 58
SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) — Jada Boyd scored 15 of her 18 points in the second half and top-seeded North Carolina State overcame a slow start to beat 16th-seeded North Carolina.
N.C. State (21-2) was making its fourth straight tournament appearance and 26th overall, but earned a No. 1 seed for the first time. N.C. State will face South Florida in the second round.
Chanin Scott led NC A&T (14-3) with 23 points.
SOUTH FLORIDA 57, WASHINGTON STATE 53
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Elena Tsineke scored 18 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:32 remaining, to help South Florida beat Washington State.
Tsineke’s driving shot, which came soon after a 3-pointer by Washington State’s Charlisse Leger-Walker, gave the eighth-seeded Bulls (19-3) a 54-53 lead.
Leger-Walker had 19 points for the ninth-seeded Cougars (12-12).
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Loyola Chicago carried out 101-year-old superfan Sister Jean’s plans to a T on Sunday, moving to the Sweet 16 with a 71-58 win over Illinois, the first No. 1 seed bounced from this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Cameron Krutwig delivered a 19-point, 12-rebound masterpiece and the quick-handed, eighth-seeded Ramblers (26-4) led wire to wire. They befuddled a powerful Illinois offense to return to the second weekend three years after their last magical run to the Final Four.
The Ramblers will next play No. 12 seed Oregon State in a Midwest Regional semifinal.
Their 2018 trip to the Final Four was headlined by Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the venerable team chaplain, who received both COVID-19 vaccination shots and clearance to travel to Indianapolis to see what inspiration she could provide in 2021. Jean delivered a pregame prayer that could’ve been stripped straight from a John Wooden handbook.
Illinois (24-7) earned top seeding for the first time since its own Final Four run in 2005, but fell behind by double digits in the first half and never got within striking range. The Illini committed 16 turnovers and scored 23 points fewer than their season average.
Illinois’ 7-foot second-team All-American Kofi Cockburn finished with 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting, but worked hard for every shot.
And Loyola’s handsy guards, Lucas Williamson and Keith Clemons, kept first-team All-American Ayo Dosunmu from ever finding his comfort zone. He finished with nine points, 11 under his season average.
OREGON STATE 80, OKLAHOMA STATE 70
Ethan Thompson scored 26 points and Oregon State neutralized Oklahoma State and star freshman Cade Cunningham, rolling to an 80-70 upset.
Maurice Calloo, who transferred from Oklahoma State, scored 15 points and Jarod Lucas also had 15 for the 12th-seeded Beavers.
Cunningham, a first-team All-American and possible top NBA draft pick, scored 24 points for Oklahoma State (21-9), but the fourth-seeded Cowboys wasted possessions down the stretch by failing to get him the ball.
Avery Anderson scored 16 points and Keylan Boone added 13 for Oklahoma State in a game that was delayed for 20 minutes at the start by a power outage.
Oregon State (19-12) became the third double-digit seed to reach this year’s Sweet 16, joining 15 seed Oral Roberts and Syracuse, an 11.
SYRACUSE 75, WEST VIRGINIA 72
Buddy Boeheim carried his father, Jim, to the Hall of Fame coach’s 20th Sweet 16 appearance, scoring 22 of his 25 points after halftime to lead 11th-seeded Syracuse past third-seeded West Virginia.
Jim Boeheim’s Orange got the better of another legend, Bob Huggins, in the second March Madness meeting between coaches with at least 900 Division I victories. Huggins won No. 900 when West Virginia beat Morehead State in the first round on Friday. Boeheim got his 982nd at Huggins’ expense.
Syracuse (18-9) advanced to face second-seeded Houston.
Buddy “Buckets” Boeheim erupted in the second half, when he made all but one of his six 3-pointers. He finished 6 of 13 from deep and 8 of 17 overall, and he helped put the game away with three late free throws.
Sean McNeil scored 23 points to lead the Mountaineers (19-10), who last made the Sweet 16 in 2018.
HOUSTON 63, RUTGERS 60
Quentin Grimes scored 22 points, Tramon Mark converted a soaring three-point play with 24 seconds left, and Houston beat Rutgers.
DaJon Jarreau overcame a series of bumps and bruises to score a key bucket down the stretch and finished with 17 points for second-seeded Houston (26-3).
The 10th-seeded Scarlet Knights (16-12) still had a chance after Mark’s free throws, but Geo Baker turned the ball over and Marcus Sasser made two more to extend the lead. Rutgers rushed back up the floor and Ron Harper Jr. let fly a potential tying 3 from the wing that clanked off the side of the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
Baker finished with 14 points for Rutgers but was holding back tears following his late turnover. Montez Mathis also had 10 points for the Scarlet Knights, who failed to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1976.
BAYLOR 76, WISCONSIN 63
Davion Mitchell scored 16 points and spearheaded a dominant defensive first half, helping top-seeded Baylor avoid another NCAA Tournament upset with a 76-63 win over Wisconsin on Sunday.
Not long after Illinois became the first No. 1 seed to bow out, the Bears (24-2) looked every bit a Final Four favorite in the first half, smothering Wisconsin with the type of defensive pressure they played before a late-season COVID-19 pause.
The Badgers (18-13) showed a bit of fight after being backed into an 18-point corner, rallying to within seven midway through the second half behind D’Mitrik Trice (12 points).
The Bears answered the run with a dash of more D to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth time under coach Scott Drew. They’ll face fifth-seeded Villanova.
VILLANOVA 84, NORTH TEXAS 61
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 18 points, Jermaine Samuels Jr. had 15 and Villanova knocked down 15 3-pointers, emphatically ending 13th-seeded North Texas’ bid for a second upset.
Villanova (18-6) will play the second weekend of the tournament for the third time in the last five. Coach Jay Wright’s team won the whole thing the last two times it got this far in 2016 and ’18.
These Wildcats are not considered a serious national championship contender — but they seemed to channel those title teams in the first half against the Conference USA champions at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Villanova finished 15 for 30 from 3-point range, with Cole Swider (nine points) and Caleb Daniels (11 points) each hitting three.
Javion Hamlet scored 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting, but the rest of the Mean Green (18-10) made only 13 field goals.
ARKANSAS 68, TEXAS TECH 66
Justin Smith had 20 points and played a key role in a final-play defensive stop, helping Arkansas beat Texas Tech and secure the program’s first trip to the Sweet 16 in a quarter-century.
In the final seconds of a tense finish, Smith found himself defending Kyler Edwards beyond the 3-point arc. Edwards drove into the paint with Smith on his hip and missed a layup, with Arkansas guard JD Notae snagging the rebound and sprinting up court to run the final seconds out.
The third-seeded Razorbacks are off to the regional semifinals for the first time since 1996 under famed former coach Nolan Richardson. Arkansas (24-6) next faces No. 15 seed Oral Roberts.
Star freshman Moses Moody had 11 of his 15 points after halftime for the Razorbacks, who led by 13 points only to have the sixth-seeded Red Raiders twice whittle that margin to a single point.
Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 20 points for Texas Tech (18-11).
ORAL ROBERTS 81, FLORIDA 78
Oral Roberts became just the second No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to advance to the round of 16, sending No. 7 seed Florida home.
Oral Roberts opened the tournament by stunning No. 2 seed Ohio State.
Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas carried the Golden Eagles out of an 11-point deficit. Obanor scored 28 points and Abmas, the regular season national leading scorer, finished with 26 as the Golden Eagles (18-10) closed the game on a 25-11 run to overcome the 11-point lead Florida held with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Oral Roberts joins Florida Gulf Coast — those guys from Dunk City — as the only No. 15 seeds to reach the round of 16.
Tre Mann led the Gators (15-10) with 19 points, but went quiet late in the second half, failing to score over the final 17 minutes.
The UCLA women’s basketball team is used to dealing with the bare minimum this season, having a shortened bench of eight players, give or take. But bare minimum took on a whole new meaning after the Bruins saw the women’s designated weight room for the NCAA Tournament.
True to the images circulating on social media, the women’s teams were given a spartan arrangement, with a rack of dumbbells and sanitized yoga mats. Meanwhile, the men’s teams were given a large room filled with benches, squat racks — any equipment that might be required.
An effective work environment is essential in any occupation, but for teams like UCLA, which will play Wyoming in the first round of the tournament on Monday, the NCAA’s setup didn’t cut it.
“Different programs do different things for different weight programs,” said senior Michaela Onyenwere. “We might be different than the next team and how we’re going to use that room, but we didn’t really even have a choice because we didn’t have the resources because we were an afterthought.”
For the Bruins’ small roster, the weight room won’t affect the postseason regiment too much. They’re also trying not to be bothered by the differences in food quality, swag bag items and other external factors related to the tournament as they prepare for Wyoming.
UCLA earned the No. 3 seed in the Hemisfair Region on an at-large bid after finishing as runner-up behind Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Tournament. Wyoming, the No. 14-seed, won the Mountain West Tournament as a No. 7 seed and is riding a six-game win streak heading into the NCAA Tournament.
It will be the first meeting between the Bruins (16-5) and the Cowgirls (14-9), but Coach Cori Close feels well prepared for any situation after the Pac-12 season.
“When we started talking about their sort of spread offense and their motion offense, we were able to say OK, it’s sort of like Colorado in this way, it’s like Utah in this way,” she said. “We just have such vast styles of play in the Pac-12, but it’s at such a high level, so you’re already forced to be exposed to so many things.”
McKinley Bradshaw leads Wyoming in scoring with 11.5 points per game and is 33-for-79 from beyond the arc. Quinn Weidemann and Alba Sanchez Ramos each have double-digit scoring averages as well, with Weidemann clicking at 11 ppg and Sanchez Ramos at 10.1 ppg in addition to a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game.
Onyenwere is UCLA’s top-scoring player. Her 18.7 ppg have helped move her to sixth in program history in career points with 1,842. In terms of scoring this season, she’s followed by Charisma Osborne (17 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Natalie Chou (10 ppg, 4.3 rpg).
Tipoff for the Bruins’ first-round game is set for Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN at the Frank Irwin Center in Austin, Texas. No matter how small the weight room or how limited the food selection and quality, Close expects her team to remain focused.
“What I don’t want to have happen is any of the extraneous things on the outside to distract from this incredible experience that these student-athletes have worked so hard for,” Close said. “So, I’m excited to compete, to get better and to continue to enjoy with great gratitude.”