No. 2 UCLA softball splits doubleheader with No. 4 Washington

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.”

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Alexander: Another UCLA victory in another crazy finish

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?

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Alexander: For the UCLA women, a rough end to a magnificent season

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.

But after a 71-62 loss to Texas at San Antonio’s Alamodome ended their journey one stop short of the Sweet 16, Close reflected on the things that made this collection of players special, the things that she will miss most.

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.”

A prime example came from UCLA’s best player, Michaela Onyenwere, and it had nothing to do with points or rebounds. It was during a practice at the University of Texas before the Bruins’ first-round game against Wyoming. And it came at a time when the NCAA was catching all sorts of flak from those both inside the game and out, because of the severe differences between what the women’s players and teams were provided and what the men were getting in Indianapolis.

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.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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UCLA women’s basketball feels well prepared for Wyoming

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.”

UCLA (16-5) vs. Wyoming (14-9)

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Frank Irwin Center, Austin, Texas

TV: ESPN

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Alexander: These UCLA Bruins certainly are not in ruins

  • UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) takes a shot over BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU center Richard Harward (42) grabs a rebound as teammate Caleb Lohner (33) and UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) close in during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) reacts to a foul called during the second half of a first-round game against UCLA in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) reaches for a rebound with UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) and BYU forward Caleb Lohner, second from left, and BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA head coach Mick Cronin directs his team during the second half of a first-round game against BYU in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA guard Johnny Juzang (3) takes a three point shot as BYU forward Gideon George (5) defends during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) drives past BYU forward Caleb Lohner (33) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) battles for the ball with UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, as UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) closes in during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) battles for the ball with UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, as UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) closes in during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA guard David Singleton (34) drives past BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) goes up for a shot as BYU guard Connor Harding (44) and teammate Richard Harward (42) defend during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) battles for the ball with UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, as UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) closes in during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) gets screened out by UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) as he tries to defend UCLA guard Tyger Campbell (10) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Spencer Johnson (20) looks to shoot the ball in front of UCLA forward Mac Etienne, right, during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) shoots over UCLA forward Mac Etienne (12) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU head coach Mark Pope directs his team during the first half of a first-round game against UCLA in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Spencer Johnson (20) drives past UCLA guard Johnny Juzang (3) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Caleb Lohner (33) looks for help as UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) closes in during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Matt Haarms, left, battles for a rebound with UCLA forward Cody Riley (2) and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Caleb Lohner (33) battles for a rebound with UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., left, during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) drives past UCLA forward Mac Etienne (12) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • A reflection of BYU and UCLA teams warm up as fans watch in a reflection prior to a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) goes up for the tipoff with UCLA forward Cody Riley (2) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA players prepare for a first-round game against BYU in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

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Tell me you weren’t expecting this, UCLA fan.

Or maybe I should put it another way. Up until the Bruins arrived at the arena in Boulder, Colo., on Feb. 27, their supporters had reason to expect a nice tournament run. UCLA was 17-4, had a shot at the regular-season Pac-12 title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament …

… and then it all went blooey. Four straight losses, blown leads, an early exit in the Pac-12 tournament at the hands of Oregon State, and all of a sudden the pearl clutchers had a lot of pearls to clutch.

So what to make of this weekend? The team that couldn’t hold a lead in the final three weeks of the regular year, the one that was painful to watch at times in the first half of Thursday night’s 11th seed play-in against Michigan State, blew past the Spartans in the second half. Then they blew past BYU in the first half Saturday, thanks to Johnny Juzang, and they’ll be playing in the round of 32 Monday night.

This is why we watch. Consider that the Oregon State team that knocked off the Bruins in Las Vegas won the conference tournament and, likewise is in the NCAA round of 32. As is Colorado. As is USC. And as is Oregon, the last of which is a reminder that nothing is guaranteed in Pandemic Basketball after Virginia Commonwealth, Oregon’s opponent, was ruled out Saturday because of what were described as multiple positive COVID-19 tests.

Maybe that 5-0 start by the Pac-12 this weekend, not including Oregon’s walkover, should have sent a message to the rest of the country.

“You’re finding out that the Pac-12 not being ranked all year was an absolute joke,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “And some people ought to be ashamed of themselves.

“Now, you know, maybe people can’t stay up late and I don’t blame them because I can’t either. Where I live, the sun shines all day and it comes up early. So I get up early. So maybe people can’t stay up for our games. But I’ve been doing this a long time. And, you know, back in 2011, I coached in a league (the Big East) where 11 teams made the NCAA tournament. The national champion (Connecticut) finished in a tie for ninth, 10th and 11th.

“So I know good teams. Oregon State, Oregon, Colorado, USC, you know, those teams winning is just not a surprise at all. It’s just not a surprise.”

The four teams the Bruins lost to at the end of the season: Colorado on the road by 9, Oregon on the road by 8 (in a game that had been postponed twice and was plopped into the final week schedule almost at the last minute), USC by a point and Oregon State by 4 in overtime in ‘Vegas.

Each of those could be around a while. And in UCLA’s case, the chances of the magic continuing seemed to have brightened while Cronin was still answering questions in the postgame Zoom session. No. 14 seed Abilene Christian, a program that has only been playing on the Division I level since the 2013-14 season, knocked off Texas 53-52, which means a team that didn’t become eligible for NCAA championship competition until 2018 will be playing a team that, as Cronin noted, practices in a gym with 11 championship banners on the wall.

Then again … Cronin said that assistant Darren Sorvino, who was assigned to keep an eye on Abilene Christian, predicted the Wildcats would take out Texas.

“And I turned to T.J. Wolf on my staff, and he said, ‘Coach, he’s right. They force 20 turnovers a game. They’re really, really good.’ That was just in passing,” Cronin said.

“So obviously they have a great coach (Joe Golding). Somebody forces 20 turnovers a game, that’s unbelievable. Somebody just told me Texas had 23 turnovers. And they got senior — they got (Andrew) Jones, (Courtney) Ramey. They’ve got serious guards now, Matt Coleman. And they turn the ball over that many times? That means Abilene Christian is really, really good. That’s all I can say.”

Challenges are good, and that stat will be a way to make sure Cronin has the attention of his players on the practice floor Sunday.

As it was, the Bruins – with their lineup of three sophomores and two juniors and no seniors on the active roster – could have had a chip on their collective shoulder after being relegated to the First Four, but Juzang said it was just a matter of having another chance to “go out and compete.” Now it’s a matter of continuing to earn themselves additional chances.

What came out of Saturday night’s game? UCLA’s defensive play made sure the vaunted BYU explosiveness (78.7 points a game and a 10.3 point average margin of victory) didn’t materialize, aside from some long-range shooting by Alex Barcello (20 points on 9 of 17 shooting, though he was 2 of 6 on 3-pointers) and a first step by 5-11 Brandon Averette that continually allowed him to blow by Bruins defenders en route to a 15-point night.

Juzang scored 19 of his 27 points before halftime to help the Bruins to a comfort level they maintained for most of the game, even after BYU trimmed what had been a 13-point lead to four early in the second half.

And with 50 points in his first two tournament games Juzang joined rare company. The only two UCLA players with more points in their first two tournament games – and remember, this is a lot of players over a lot of games – remain Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who was known as Lew Alcindor when he scored 67 points in his first two games in 1967), and Reggie Miller (56 points in 1987). Juzang passed Willie Naulls (49 in 1956) on the all-time list.

“Those are some legendary names,” Juzang said. “So it’s an honor to be mentioned with them, no doubt.”

But then he added this: “We’re not done. We’re not finished. I’m happy I’ve been able to contribute in that category. But, you know, we’re not satisfied … We don’t plan on going home.”

This could be far more invigorating a March than the Bruin faithful had reason to hope for two weeks ago during that four-game losing streak.

“Playing good teams can either kill you, or it makes you better,” Cronin said.

In this case, let’s say it was Plan B.

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Whicker: Beat-up UCLA rallies to beat Michigan State in night of validation

Mick Cronin had not seen John Wooden’s statue yet, the one that sits outside Purdue’s Mackey Arena, just in front of the Pyramid of Success. UCLA hadn’t reached West Lafayette, Indiana until 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night for practice, and the Bruins were herded through the halls without a chance to wander.

Nowadays, Wooden’s image is a good omen for those who follow him. It used to peer through thick glasses, disapprovingly, when the first successors fell short of ultimate victory, but nearly everyone understands that 46 years have changed things. Wooden now is a reminder that UCLA once could do this, rather than a taskmaster who insisted it must.

Besides, Cronin had another old coach to worry about.

Hep Cronin came up from Cincinnati to watch his son’s first NCAA Tournament game as UCLA’s coach. It turned out to be UCLA’s first tournament win since the second round in 2017, when Lonzo Ball led the Bruins past Cincinnati, coached by Cronin, in Sacramento.

Mick had not seen his dad since February of 2020. Hep was coming to the Pac-12 Tournament that March, but a virus intervened. They talk each day, with Mick gently ribbing him about the winter sunshine that L.A. generally has and Cincinnati generally doesn’t.

Now?

“Now I get to see him again,” Mick said.

After a series of late-game swan dives, and after a long Sunday afternoon of waiting to see if the NCAA would even beckon, UCLA suddenly has much to anticipate.

Its 86-80 overtime victory over Michigan State will be prized as a rare example of Bruin grit and gumption, even though both teams were 11th seeds, and in the second half everyone found out why Michigan State was. The Spartans (15-13) were smooth and commanding in seizing a 44-33 halftime lead, but UCLA (20-7) paralyzed them with the defense that it hasn’t displayed often, and it somehow grabbed the game’s joystick and made every play it had to in the final minutes. Michigan State missed 11 of its final 15 shots and lost a game it had led by five with 30 seconds left.

“I never thought we couldn’t come back and win,” Jaime Jaquez, Jr. said. “But we had to come out in the second half with different energy.”

Or maybe Jaquez needed to bequeath some of his to everyone else. It’s difficult to remember when a UCLA player has had such an influential NCAA Tournament. Jaquez played all 45 minutes, hit 11 of 20 shots and scored a career-high 27 points, and after halftime, Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard got on board. In overtime Juzang went down with an ankle injury and had to be helped off the court, and who knows if he’ll be available Saturday against No. 6 seed Brigham Young? But by then he had scored 21 points, and the Bruins had underlined the fact that Michigan State’s defense, at least temporarily, has gone the way of the Oldsmobile.

“We thought (Malik) Hall and (Joey) Houser would guard Jaime,” Cronin said, “and we liked those matchups, so he knew I was going to be coming his way.”

Jaquez used his exemplary footwork and his keen anticipation, a sense that he displayed from Day One in a Bruin uniform in the fall of 2019. He can also shoot it conventionally, but he also has worked at the game so diligently that he knows how to invent the angles of attack. At one point he was zooming in for a layup and the ball escaped his hands, but he kept his legs moving and found himself in the left corner. The ball found him, too, and Jaquez swished a 3-pointer.

He also rebounded his own free-throw miss and converted the 3-point play that gave the Bruins the 77-77 tie it took into overtime. Over the final 25 minutes, Michigan State scored 36 points.

Jaquez had already committed to UCLA when Cronin took the job. He also had traveled with the Mexican national team, playing against men. “I think sometimes he’s almost better when we’re down,” Cronin said.

“I just try to give us what we need,” Jaquez said. “Tonight it was scoring, along with trying to get deflections. The kind of defense we played in the first half wasn’t going to get it done.”

The win also showed a maturity level in the program itself. True, UCLA spent the final two weeks losing close games. But it lost to USC on a fanciful shot at the buzzer, and it lost to Oregon because it suffered late turnovers against pressure, and it didn’t shoot free throws well against Oregon State. The Bruins had a four-game losing streak but they weren’t in the tank. They were actually the better team through most of those games and just couldn’t hold up down the stretch. There’s a difference, and Cronin kept saying that it was the nature of the game, not the nature of the players, that was causing the problem.

“They needed something like this,” Cronin said. He also said that he would find that Wooden statue before the Bruins left Indiana. They seem in no rush.

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Relief turns to hope as the UCLA Bruins are finally buzzed into the tournament

As the bracket announcement for the expanded Indiana State Basketball Fair was nearing the end, UCLA assistant coach Michael Lewis got the stink-eye from Mick Cronin, his boss.

“He’s our resident bracketologist,” Cronin said Sunday. “He assured me we were in. The fact that we got in was good for his job security. His credibility was slipping.”

No problem. The Bruins were the fifth Pac-12 team to gain entry to the NCAA field, which tells you about the fallowness of that field, and will play Michigan State in a First Four game sometime on Thursday, somewhere in Lewis’ home state.

The survivor of that battle of 11th seeds will meet Brigham Young in the next round. Both games are winnable for UCLA, just as USC’s game with the Drake-Wichita State winner is winnable, as is a probable matchup with Kansas after that.

Even UC Santa Barbara, the Big West champ with a 22-4 record, doesn’t appear disadvantaged by fifth-seeded Creighton in its first round. CSUN coach Mark Gottfried is among those who think the Gauchos are a live dog.

As Cronin mentioned, everyone is 0-0, even a Gonzaga club that is 26-0. The conference tournaments portend three weeks of NCAA chaos. Oregon State plowed through the Pac-12, and Georgetown, which entered the Big East tournament with a losing record, took advantage of Villanova’s injuries and then beat Connecticut and Creighton.

That could have endangered UCLA, but instead bounced Louisville, whose fans have totally shrugged off the fact that tournament selection committee chairman Mitch Barnhart is the athletic director at Kentucky. Right?

The Bruins got this bid because they won close games, a knack that escaped them at the very end. At one point they were 8-1 in games decided by five or fewer points, which does not count a triple-overtime win over Pepperdine. Only two of their losses in their 0-4 finish were that close, but they had control at Oregon and literally threw it away.

Michigan State conjures up images of muscled-up longshoremen who drop anvils on nearby heads. This MSU team was actually outscored by its opponents. It is true that the Spartans beat Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State in a 13-day span. It’s also true that Michigan State lost by 30 to Iowa and Rutgers, scoring 37 against the Scarlet Knights, and shot 41.2 percent in an opening-round Big 10 tournament loss to Maryland.

If anything, Michigan State’s familiarity with top-shelf Big Ten basketball will be its edge. There’s little question the Spartans, 9-11 in the Big 10, would have contended strongly for a Pac-12 title. But it doesn’t mean UCLA can’t win, particularly if Jules Bernard, Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang can find a way to get hot simultaneously.

Meanwhile, what matchup does USC prefer? Drake won its first 19 games but then lost Roman Penn and Stephen Hemphill to injury, and it saw no one resembling Evan Mobley. Wichita State regrouped after Isaac Brown replaced coach Gregg Marshall, had no bad losses, and defeated Houston.

The Shockers have the ultimate 2020s player in Tyson Etienne, who shoots 39.9 percent from three-point land and 37.9 percent from two. He’s also DeAndre Jordan’s cousin.

UCSB has lost once since Dec. 27 and has JaQuori McLaughlin, the Big West Player of the Year. Creighton is 20-8 and well-respected, but is questionable on two fronts: a defensive field goal percentage of 48.6 and the Bluejays’ clunky 64.2 performance from the foul line.

Ultimately, those who win NCAA games will have to develop a sort of lab-rat obedience. The governing body is leaving few decisions to the coaches or schools.

“They’ve gone all-out,” Cronin said of the NCAA. “Here’s your hotel, here’s your floor, here’s your hallway and elevator. This is where you eat and practice. They’ll have expanded planes and buses to keep the distancing.”

This uncomfortable season might lead to useful procedures in the future, including more league games, and a centralized tournament. In fact, why not play the whole thing in L.A. someday? Certainly Staples Center, the new Clippers’ arena, Pauley Pavilion, Galen Center, Honda Center and Toyota Arena in Ontario could handle it.

There were those who thought the mere idea of a 2021 tournament was madness, and certainly COVID-19 was enormously disruptive. But, as Barnhart said, four of every five scheduled regular-season games were played. If the danger is controlled, the enthusiasm doesn’t have to be.

Besides, the Bruins got a chance to bump knuckles on a day when Duke, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana and Kentucky didn’t. When you still have games ahead, on the second Sunday of a pandemic March, you’re ahead of the game.

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UCLA women close out Arizona to reach Pac-12 Tournament title game

  • Arizona guard Aari McDonald dives for a loose ball as UCLA guard Charisma Osborne, left, and forward Michaela Onyenwere defend during the first half of Friday night’s Pac-12 Tournament semifinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Emily Bessoir (11) shoots as Arizona guard Aari McDonald (2) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) shoots as Arizona forward Lauren Ware (32) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Lauryn Miller (33) and Arizona forward Cate Reese (25) fight for control of the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA guard Lindsey Corsaro (4) shoots as Arizona guard Bendu Yeaney (23) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Arizona guard Aari McDonald (2) shoots as UCLA forward Emily Bessoir defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere shoots during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Arizona forward Sam Thomas (14) shoots as UCLA guard Natalie Chou (23) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) shoots as Arizona forward Trinity Baptiste (0) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere (21) shoots over Arizona forward Cate Reese (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • The Arizona bench reacts after a teammate’s 3-point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA guard Chantel Horvat (0) celebrates a teammate’s 3-point against Arizona during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 women’s tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

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Michaela Onyenwere dribbled the ball hard and fast, crossed the court in nearly a full sprint and pounded the ball off the backboard when she went in for a layup.

Onyenwere scored 24 points and that late-game moment helped the UCLA women’s basketball team stave off a fourth-quarter rally by Arizona, 58-49, on Friday night to reach the Pac-12 Tournament championship game at Mandalay Bay’s Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

The third-seeded Bruins (16-4) will play top-seeded Stanford (24-2) for the conference title on Sunday at 5 p.m.

The Bruins overcame an off-shooting night in the semifinals and a late push from second-seeded Arizona (16-5), which carved into a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to get within two with a little more than a minute left. That’s when Onyenwere made her coast-to-coast layup to begin a 9-2 UCLA run over the final 1:04.

“Today I just wanted to really focus on being really steady,” Onyenwere said. “I think yesterday I could have done a better job of that, so I wanted to come in and do what I need to do for my team, whether that meant drive to the basket, getting rebounds or whatever I needed to do.”

Natalie Chou added seven points, six rebounds and three steals for UCLA, including a key defensive rebound and free throw during the Bruins’ last surge. Charisma Osborne also had seven points, four in the final 23 seconds.

“Natalie has gone from defining herself as just a shooter to being a great basketball player, a multifaceted, versatile playmaker,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “It wasn’t about stats tonight; it was about doing whatever our team needed to win the game. That’s exactly what Charisma Osborne did.”

Emily Bessoir added six points and seven rebounds for UCLA, which lost 68-65 at Arizona in their lone meeting during the regular season.

Pac-12 Player of the Year Aari McDonald led Arizona with 24 points and eight rebounds.

One night after the Bruins limited Washington to a season-low 46 points in the quarterfinals, they held Arizona to its lowest output – 18½ points below its season average of 67.5 per game. The Wildcats’ previous low was 59 in a nine-point victory over Cal on Feb. 19.

“We really wanted to focus on being super steady,” Onyenwere said. “We knew there were going to be ups and downs, lefts and rights with Arizona. They’re a great team and they like to take you out of rhythm on offense and on defense. Our keyword was to stay steady. They went on that run in the fourth quarter. And every single huddle and timeout we were like, ‘Look, stay steady. They’re going to make their run. Stay steady.’”

Neither team came out with any sort of rhythm, as UCLA was a dismal 3 for 16 from the floor in the first quarter while Arizona shot just 4 for 10. The Bruins’ relentless pressure on the ball, led by Chou’s two steals, forced the Wildcats into six turnovers in the opening period.

But as UCLA began to find a groove, Arizona’s struggles carried into the second quarter after the Wildcats took a 13-10 lead on Cate Reese’s short jumper. They fell into an 0-for-10 drought from the floor over the final 9:13 of the first half. UCLA took advantage by shooting 8 for 14 down the stretch and using a 15-4 run to take a 25-17 lead into the locker room. Onyenwere had 10 points and two steals in the first half, while the Bruins limited Arizona to a 1-for-6 showing from 3-point range.

Looking to give her team a spark, McDonald struggled while taking many of Arizona’s shots on offense. She went 1 for 6 in the second quarter, and 2 for 9 in the first half. Only one other Wildcats player had two attempts in the second period, and nobody else took more than three shots in the opening half.

McDonald finished 8 for 24, while no other Arizona player had more than seven attempts. Arizona forward Sam Thomas came in shooting 53% from 3-point range over her last nine games, but she took just two shots from deep and made one.

“I think both teams struggled offensively, because we both played solid defense,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes, whose team now waits to find out where it will be seeded for the NCAA Tournament later this month.

Osborne had scored in double figures in 12 straight games and brought a 17.8 scoring average into Friday night, but the sophomore guard finished 1 for 12 from the floor in 35 minutes.

Now, the Bruins turn their focus to Stanford. The teams split their regular-season meetings, with the Cardinal winning, 61-49, in Westwood and the Bruins winning the rematch, 70-66, which was played in Santa Cruz because of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County at the time.

“We made a commitment in the locker room that we won’t speak of this (Arizona) game after 11 p.m.,” Close said. “We’re very focused on putting our energy and our time into being ready to prepare and to get our mind and hearts right, but tomorrow is going to be much more mental.”

In the other semifinal …

Cameron Brink scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Stanford to a 79-45 victory over Oregon State. Brink, a freshman, finished 9 for 13 from the floor while adding four blocked shots. Kiana Williams had 20 points, six rebounds and six assists for Stanford (24-2). Lexie Hull contributed 12 points and seven rebounds, and Hannah Jump added 10 points and five boards.

Aleah Goodman scored 12 points and Taylor Jones pulled down 13 rebounds to lead Oregon State (11-7), which was playing its third tournament game in three days.

News services contributed to this story.

.@monyenwere_ powers to the rim! Bruins back up four! 🏀

📺| @Pac12Network
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📻| https://t.co/FORzK0ZVaQ#GoBruins | 🐻💙💛 | #Pac12WBB pic.twitter.com/0lJWgEtNrL

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) March 6, 2021

“If you want to be successful at the highest level, you have to be the tougher, more together team” — @CoachCoriClose

Coach Close’s postgame interview included some analysis of tonight’s win and praise for the wonderful coverage provided by @Pac12Network! ⤵pic.twitter.com/0i7124cROb

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) March 6, 2021

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UCLA women hold off Washington to reach Pac-12 Tournament semis

  • UCLA guard Charisma Osborne shoots a layup during the first half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal against Washington in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington center Darcy Rees defends as UCLA forward Lauryn Miller passes the ball during the first half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA guard Chantel Horvat is defended by Washington forward Khayla Rooks during the first half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • UCLA guard Natalie Chou shoots as Washington guard Tameiya Sadler defends during the first half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington guard Tameiya Sadler shoots as UCLA forward Lauryn Miller, right, defends during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington guard Tameiya Sadler drives as UCLA guard Charisma Osborne defends during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington center Quay Miller shoots as UCLA guard Chantel Horvat defends during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington center Quay Miller reacts after a foul call during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal against UCLA in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Washington center Darcy Rees passes the ball as UCLA guard Chantel Horvat defends during the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

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After getting outscored in two straight quarters, the UCLA women’s basketball team needed a strong fourth quarter to finish off Washington and secure a trip to the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.

But the Bruins didn’t just needs points, they needed what Coach Cori Close calls “passion plays.”

Charisma Osborne and Michaela Onyenwere turned it on in the final quarter as the third-seeded Bruins beat the 11th-seeded Huskies, 58-46, in a quarterfinal on Thursday night at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

“We are a much-improved shooting team than we were a year ago, but it is still not the preeminent part of our success,” Close said. “Our success is built on defense, rebounding and passion plays. And passion plays are non-statistical hustle plays that we believe are the intangibles that lead us to high levels of play and help us survive bad shooting nights.”

Onyenwere scored six of her 12 points in the fourth quarter and Charisma Osborne also had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins (15-4), while Lauryn Miller had nine points and Natalie Chou added seven.

UCLA will meet second-seeded Arizona (16-4) in a semifinal on Friday at 8 p.m. Arizona defeated seventh-seeded Washington State, 60-44, on Thursday.

Top-seeded Stanford (23-2), which throttled eighth-seeded USC, 92-53, will face fifth-seeded Oregon State (11-6) in Friday’s 5 p.m. semifinal. The Beavers upset fourth-seeded Oregon, 71-64.

UCLA staved off upset-minded Washington (7-14), which pulled within three early in the fourth but couldn’t gain enough momentum to seize control of the game.

After cutting the Bruins’ lead to 44-41 with 8:22 left, but under UCLA’s defensive pressure, the Huskies missed their next four shots and turned the ball over on another possession. Washington’s only points during a crucial five-minute stretch came from two free throws by Tameiya Sadler.

Meanwhile, the Bruins hit five consecutive shots from the field, added a couple of free throws, and used a 12-2 run to open a 56-43 lead with 2:52 left and never looked back.

“Tonight we weren’t shooting our best and that’s what we kept talking about in the huddles, ‘Okay, y’all, we know it’s a battle right now on the offensive end but let’s get stops,’” Onyenwere said. “That’s something we can do all the time. When we’re able to run like that it’s so fun to play with my teammates. I think that’s kind of where we kind of turned it around and kind of flipped that switch.

“At the end of the day we found a way, and moving forward we’re gonna go into (the game against) Arizona, kind of figure out what we need to do to get a win there, but yeah, I’m proud of my team for just sticking it out and winning this one.”

The Bruins outscored Washington in the paint, 32-26, and 10-5 on second-chance points.

It looked as if UCLA was going to put the game away early, as the Bruins held Washington scoreless for more than four minutes and without a field goal for nearly six, during a first-period stretch that saw them use an 11-0 run to build a 16-5 lead.

Emily Bessoir gave the Bruins a 15-point lead just moments into the second quarter with a long 3-pointer, but Washington turned the tables and capitalized on seven turnovers by UCLA, which also shot just 25% from the field in the second quarter.

The Huskies used a 13-0 run over more than seven minutes to pull within two before UCLA’s Lindsey Corsaro made a 3-pointer and moments later a layup, putting UCLA ahead by five for a halftime lead of 30-25.

Chou’s defense late in the third quarter helped thwart another Huskies rally, as she recorded three steals in less than two minutes, one of which allowed the Bruins to extend their lead to five, at 42-37.

The Bruins missed nine of their last 11 shots in the first half. They looked like the complete opposite of a team that just registered a pair of record-breaking shooting performances in their previous two games, most recently against USC on Feb. 26, when they went 16 for 23 from 3-point range (69.6%), the most 3-pointers in a single game in program history. On Thursday, UCLA finished 2 for 18 (11.1%) from beyond the arc.

“We’re not a live-by-the-three, die-by-the-three kind of team,” Close said. “We just needed to be a lot more poised and go ‘Hey, you know what, let’s not take the first open three.”

Quay Miller had a game-high 19 points on 9-for-16 shooting with seven rebounds for Washington, while Sadler chipped in 12 points.

Washington coach Jody Wynn said the Huskies were dealt their biggest blow when leading scorer Haley Van Dyke couldn’t return to the game in the second half after hitting her head on the court. Van Dyke, who averages 12.5 points and 6 rebounds per game, had just two points in 17 minutes in the first half.

“Haley’s led us all year long,” Wynn said. “She’s led us from the moment she showed up on campus in the Fall. She’s one of our most experienced players. When she went down and wasn’t able to come back to the court with us and fight, it kind of rattled us for a little bit.”

Sadler, a freshman guard, was the Huskies’ most well-rounded player in a 68-54 first-round upset of No. 6 seed Colorado, as she scored 18 points with a career-high eight assists and three steals.

The tournament championship game is Sunday at 5 p.m. (ESPN2).

News services contributed to this story.

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Alexander: UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere delivers on emotional Senior Night

Michaela Onyenwere tried her best not to let her emotions get the best of her Friday night. It was Senior Night for the UCLA women’s basketball program, albeit a virtual one – parents and family members celebrated with their daughters via the video board at Pauley Pavilion, rather than in person – but it was still the last home game, four years of triumphs and struggles distilled into 40 minutes against crosstown rival USC.

This night it was triumphs, overwhelmingly.

The Bruins smoked the Trojans, 93-51, and the 29-12 second quarter with which UCLA took control was the launching pad for a 30-point night for Onyenwere, with 12 points including two 3-pointers. She went on to make all six of her tries from beyond the arc, and she also grabbed eight rebounds to complement sophomore Charisma Osborne’s triple-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists).

Onyenwere’s 30 points in 30 minutes gave her 1,776 in 118 career games and enabled her to climb two spots on UCLA’s all-time scoring list, moving into ninth past Anita Ortega and Monique Billings.

And when it was over, and emotions could be released without fear, Onyenwere was the one consoling fellow senior Lauryn Miller on the bench when she was overcome by the moment. That, too, is part of the package that has enabled her to enrich UCLA’s program over the last four seasons.

“I wrote (her players) all letters today and I pretty much cried through writing all of them,” Coach Cori Close said. “With Michaela, I told her, ‘You are one of the top players to ever play at UCLA.’ But the thing that makes it most special is that that’s not what she values most. She values the experience, how she’s grown, how she’s impacted people. But it makes it really easy to celebrate her, right? And it really makes it easy to root for her.

“So obviously, yeah, I think (a night like this) was very fitting.”

Onyenwere arrived at UCLA as a Colorado’s High School Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American, which made her hardly unusual in a high-profile college program. But she made good on her promise when she got to Westwood. She has played in all but one game in four seasons, and she stepped up to be a leader when Billings and Jordin Canada left for the WNBA after her freshman season, leaving her comfort zone to speak up when necessary.

(That even meant correcting the pronunciation of her name that everyone had been butchering her first two seasons. The Bruins’ media literature now lists the pronunciation as OWN-yen-WED-ay.)

The Bruins have more work to do, beginning with the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas next week and then another crack at the NCAA Tournament. But Onyenwere almost certainly will follow Billings and Canada to the next level.

“I still don’t think she’s shown everything she is and that she can do,” said Miller, her teammate through this entire journey. “There’s just no ceiling to her game. And it’s just been so fun to watch her blossom. It’s really just a matter of when she’s confident enough to do something, because everything’s in the toolbox. She’s going to have the work ethic to obtain whatever isn’t as sharp as it needs to be.

“Whatever Michaela wants to obtain, she’s going to do. Whatever she wants to accomplish, she’s going to accomplish it. Yeah, I wish I could act surprised, but I’m not in the least.”

USC coach Mark Trakh almost certainly will be delighted to see her go to the WNBA. He cited her athletic gifts – her father, Peter Onyenwere, was an Olympic sprinter for Nigeria – and said those are complimented by her effort and drive.

“It’s a combination of things,” she said. “It’s her heart, it’s her effort. She’s got the whole package.

“Tonight she shot the three. That turnaround jumper’s unstoppable. You know, I don’t know (anyone) outside of anybody that plays in the NBA that can get up there and block that. She’s a great player, and I’m sure she’s going to have a great professional career.”

First, there was that Senior Night obstacle. It turns out the basketball was the easy part.

“I’m not an emotional person, really, so I’ve been just trying to relish the moment,” Onyenwere said afterward. “They played a video earlier with our parents and people who care about us saying nice things about us, and that almost got me, honestly. And Lauryn made a video of us, too. We came in together, so she made a video of us, and that almost got me, too. So I’ve been almost on the verge of tears, but not yet. Nobody’s got me yet.

“I’m so grateful to be able to have this moment, to have this opportunity. And like I’ve said before, I would never have picked another place. I know I picked the right place, coming to UCLA. I’m just so grateful. I’m so thankful. But I do know we have a lot of basketball left. So I think that’s what’s keeping me up, keeping me happy and not so sad today.”

The trick to surviving Senior Night, then, might be looking to the future.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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