UCLA football receives commitment from three-star WR Braden Pegan

San Juan Hills receiver Braden Pegan announced his commitment to Coach Chip Kelly and the UCLA football program on Tuesday via Twitter.

Pegan’s announcement comes one day after tweeting that he received a scholarship offer from the Bruins.

He was on campus Monday to workout with receiver coach Jerry Neuheisel and the Bruins.

Pegan told 247sports that he was called into Kelly’s office and offered a scholarship.

He is the second recruit at the position to commit to the 2022 recruiting class in as many days.

As a junior, Pegan had 24 catches for 426 yards and three touchdowns in four games played for San Juan Hills in 2020. He also had an 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Pegan has offers from Utah, Colorado and Boston College.

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DL Jay Toia commits to UCLA after spending spring with USC

Grace Brethren defensive lineman Jay Toia has flipped his commitment to UCLA, after spending spring camp with USC.

The 6-foot-2, 315-pound incoming freshman becomes the highest-rated recruit for the Bruins’ 2021 class. He first committed to the Trojans in 2018 and signed his national letter of intent in December 2020.

He entered the transfer portal after announcing his decision to leave USC in May. He enrolled early and found himself competing alongside the first- and second-team defense throughout spring practice.

“The 2020 pandemic was tragic to so many that lost so much,” Toia wrote in a Twitter post on May 31. “For me and especially my parents we felt forced to make a major decision signing with USC based on limited information because of COVID-19 restrictions. We were not able to take any official or unofficial visits to any of the other schools on our short list such as Michigan, Utah, UCLA, Miami among others.”

Following his departure from the Trojans, he made visits to Michigan and UCLA.

USC coach Clay Helton identified Toia as one of the standouts from the Trojans’ spring game in April.

“You’re talking about off the field the sweetest human being you will ever meet, but I don’t know who he becomes when it’s a competitive situation,” Helton said. “He is a different person and it has been really neat to see how talented he is but also what an unbelievable sense of urgency that guy has to be great and to help this team next year.”

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UCLA can’t catch North Carolina in NCAA regional opener

LUBBOCK, Texas — Love was on the mound Friday at Dan Law Field and that wasn’t a romantic thing at all for UCLA in an opening-round game of the NCAA baseball tournament.

The Bruins’ offense sputtered and coughed for most of the night in a 5-4 loss to North Carolina at the Lubbock Regional, with UNC ace pitcher Austin Love setting the tone by striking out nine and allowing only six hits and three runs in 6-2/3 innings.

In a game that turned into a bullpen chess match in the final few innings, UCLA (35-19) never managed more than one run in an inning and struggled to produce in clutch situations, going 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position and 2 for 11 with two outs.

Love had plenty to do with that, locking in after a rocky start and mowing down 15 of 16 hitters during a key stretch to stymie the Bruins.

UCLA starter Jesse Bergin battled through 5-1/3 innings, allowing eight hits but only a pair of earned runs.

“I thought it was a hell of a game,” Bruins coach John Savage said. “Love did his duty, struck out nine. I thought Jesse competed hard and made some pitches.”

Meanwhile, the Tar Heels (28-25) chipped away early on Will Stewart’s productive groundout in the second inning and his clutch two-out, two-run single two innings later to open a 3-1 lead.

UNC’s Danny Serretti supplied what turned out to be huge – and somewhat shocking – insurance with a two-run home run in the seventh against UCLA reliever Adrian Chaidez on an 0-and-2 count. That was just the second long ball and eighth hit Chaidez has allowed all season and marked the first time he surrendered more than a single run in his 28 appearances.

“Chaidez has been outstanding all season, but he left a pitch up and you’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” Savage said.

“They did a great job extending innings and giving themselves a chance to score some runs.”

The Bruins finally snapped their drought against Love when Kevin Kendall began the sixth with a double down the right field line. He got to third base on a wild pitch and darted home on Matt McClain’s sacrifice fly to close the gap to 3-2. The homer extended the lead to set the stage for a significant UCLA threat in the seventh.

Mikey Perez gave the Bruins a leadoff man on for the second straight inning with an infield single and Love walked JonJon Vaughn before recording the second out. Kendall delivered again with an RBI single that ended Love’s night, but North Carolina left-hander Caden O’Brien came on and struck out pinch-hitter Michael Caulfield in a full-count check swing to keep the Bruins two runs down.

UCLA cut the deficit to one run in the eighth when McLain scored on a wild pitch, but that was all the Bruins could manage despite two hits and a walk in the inning.

Things began with plenty of promise for the Bruins when McClain’s double chased home Kendall, who led off with a base hit to center field.

Before UCLA could inflict any more damage, though, Love struck out cleanup hitter JT Schwartz and coaxed a fly ball out of Mikey Perez with two runners in scoring position to slam the door.

Now the Bruins will attempt to stay alive in the four-team event when they take on Army (28-24) in an elimination game on Saturday at noon PT. Army dropped a 6-3 decision to host Texas Tech (37-15) earlier Friday.

“That’s why they call it a double-elimination tournament,” Savage said. “Our backs have been against the wall all season, so this is no different.”

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Virginia Tech outplays UCLA softball in super regional opener

It’s just the second appearance in the NCAA softball super regionals for the Virginia Tech softball team, but the Hokies wasted no time making their presence known.

ACC Pitcher of the Year Keely Rochard held the second-seeded Bruins to three hits while striking out 12 and Virginia Tech capitalized on a handful of defensive errors to take the opener of the best-of-three series, 7-2, on Thursday night at UCLA’s Easton Stadium.

“Credit Virginia Tech, they came out, they executed, and I am very confident that that was not the team that we know who we are,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.

It’s the first loss of the postseason for the Bruins (44-5), who won three consecutive games against Long Beach State, Fresno State and Minnesota in the four-team NCAA Los Angeles regional to advance to the final 16 of the bracket.

The Hokies (37-13) have been on a roll, beating Brigham Young and No. 15 seed Arizona State to win the Tempe regional, and they got on the board quickly at Easton Stadium.

Kelsey Brown and Cameron Fagan reached on singles, then Kelsey Bennett hit a two-run triple to right center field to get the scoring started for Virginia Tech.

Fagan added a two-run single in the fourth inning, then an RBI single from Addy Greene and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch extended the Hokies’ lead to 6-0 in the fifth.

Given a lead before she entered the circle, Rochard came out dealing, striking out the first six UCLA batters and retiring 13 consecutive Bruins to start the game. UCLA got its first base runner when Maya Brady walked in the bottom of the fifth. Kinsley Washington followed with a double and pinch hitter Jenavee Peres drove both of them in to get UCLA on the scoreboard.

“It honestly felt really good to be able to be back out on the field and be able to produce for my team,” said Peres, a redshirt senior. “Obviously, it was a very tough game against Virginia Tech tonight, so being able to come through for them … was a really humbling and really good feeling.”

Megan Faraimo relieved UCLA pitcher Rachel Garcia, who was unbeaten going into game, in the fifth inning. Bubba Nickles, who was previously day-to-day with a wrist injury, also came into the game at center field.

“Bubba is a huge part of UCLA softball. She’s a big part of our confidence,” Inouye-Perez said. “If there’s an opportunity for her to play with us, that’s going to do nothing but build confidence for this team. So that was tonight, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Garcia gave up nine hits while striking out seven in four innings. Faraimo pitched two innings, yielding one hit and striking out four.

Holly Azevedo entered the circle for the final inning and logged three strikeouts, but not before Brown drove in Greene with a single to cap the scoring for Virginia Tech.

The best-of-three super regional continues Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Easton Stadium.

📼 SUPER REGIONALS HIGHLIGHTS: @HokiesSoftball defeats (2) @UCLASoftball, 7-2, in game one of the Los Angeles Super Regional.#RoadToWCWS pic.twitter.com/artbx32tHV

— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) May 28, 2021

Ks for Days! 🔥 @_keelsss_#RoadToWCWS x @HokiesSoftball pic.twitter.com/m3rCAnwdmc

— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) May 28, 2021

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UCLA softball blasts Long Beach State in NCAA regional opener

First, it was Briana Perez. Then it was Rachel Garcia. Then another from Delanie Wisz. Home runs were contagious on Friday evening, with the UCLA softball team hitting three on consecutive at-bats.

“We all kind of have this inside joke between all of us that whoever is leading, it’s not going to be a lead for long,” Wisz said. “So we all kind of just joke with each other in the dugout about the team leader in home runs, but we don’t really care who’s the leader as long as we’re all just getting it done.”

The three straight homers accounted for five runs and powered the Bruins, the No. 2 national seed, to an 8-0 run-rule victory over Long Beach State in five innings at the four-team NCAA Los Angeles Regional.

UCLA (42-4), the Pac-12 champion, gave pitcher Megan Faraimo far more support than she required. Armed, superstitiously, with watermelon gum and Aquaphor chapstick in her back pocket, Faraimo had 11 strikeouts and held Long Beach to two hits in five innings.

“I do try to tell myself when I’m on the mound that it’s a 0-0 ball game so that I’m competing just as hard,” said Faraimo, who pitched with a lead from the second inning on. “Just trying to get my team back in the dugout so they can keep scoring runs.”

Wisz (2 for 3, two RBIs), who caught Faraimo, added her second home run of the game in the fourth inning to cap the scoring.

Two innings earlier, Perez, who finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs, started the onslaught with a three-run homer that extended the lead to 5-0.

“I love watching Bri settle in,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “That’s as good as it gets, hitting the ball dead center as hard as she did. I think it’s the start of things to come, but her experience is definitely kicking in. She was able to slow it down and just do what Bri has been doing all season for us.”

UCLA scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the first on just one hit. Aaliyah Jordan was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a Perez single and scored when Garcia reached on a fielder’s choice, as LBSU committed an error. One out later, a walk to Maya Brady loaded the bases, and one more out later, a free pass to junior Kinsley Washington brought in Perez to make it 2-0.

Long Beach State (30-10) struggled to find its stride, with Rylie Seip and Emily Salazar collecting the only hits for the Big West Conference champs. Kellie White, recently named to the NFCA All-West Region third team, pitched one inning, then Samantha Fowler took over for the remaining three.

“That’s not the way we want to start off the tournament,” LBSU coach Kim Sowder said. “Just got off to a rough start in the first inning, and just had a little bit of control problems in the circle. It’s just so important at this point in the season to be working ahead in the count against a powerful lineup.”

A powerful lineup that jokes about leading in home runs. For the record, it’s Wisz with 14. Perez and Garcia have 12 each.

UCLA will face Fresno State (37-10) on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., while LBSU will face Minnesota (29-12) at 4 p.m. in an elimination game. The winner of the Long Beach-Minnesota game will meet the UCLA-Fresno State loser in another elimination game Saturday night.

Fresno State 3, Minnesota 0: Fresno State scored two runs in the sixth inning and tacked on another in the seventh to beat Minnesota in Friday’s early game at Easton Stadium.

Hailey Dolcini pitched seven innings for the Bulldogs, giving up two hits and striking out 13 batters. Schuylar Broussard went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and Keahilele Mattson was 2 for 4 with one RBI.

For the Gophers, Eilee Jensen went 1 for 3 and Makenna Partain was 1 for 2.

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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.

Read more about Alexander: These UCLA Bruins certainly are not in ruins This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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