Dixon leads UCLA past NC State 74-54 in 1st round
MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Coach Nikki Caldwell brought the tenacious style of mentor Pat Summitt to UCLA, and the Bruins have begun to buy in.
Jasmine Dixon powered UCLA with 17 points and 11 rebounds, leading the No. 8 seed to a 74-54 victory on Sunday over No. 9 seed North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament.
Caldwell, the Pac-10 coach of the year, played for Summitt at Tennessee and coached there too before taking over the Bruins program last season.
“You just take that with you and you mold it to your team,” Caldwell said.
UCLA will play top-seeded Nebraska in the second round on Tuesday at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus. UCLA’s only losses since mid-January are to Pac-10 rival and No. 1 seed Stanford.
Caldwell’s vast March and April success helped calm some admittedly nervous players down after a rough start to their first NCAA tournament game. Erica Tukiainen was the catalyst from the outside with 12 points on three 3-pointers, and UCLA (25-8) pulled away down the stretch in the second half with a flurry of steals and fast-break layups.
The Bruins went 14 for 15 from the free throw line and beat up the Wolfpack on the glass with a 41-26 margin. Markel Walker sparked an intense, trapping defense and finished with eight points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Dixon, a sophomore transfer from Rutgers who led UCLA in scoring and rebounding, was delighted to see a smaller opponent. She’s an undersized post player at 5-foot-11 herself.
“They’re not shot blockers. Just get to the rim,” she said. “I just think the game came pretty easy today.”
Marissa Kastanek led North Carolina State (20-14) with 21 points and Nikitta Gartrell added 13 points. Ten of Gartrell’s points came in the first 13 minutes, though, and she finished with five turnovers.
Gartrell got the Wolfpack off to a strong start, grabbing a rebound with one hand and spinning a putback off the glass as she fell to the floor. Sitting up and staring straight at the TV camera, Gartrell showed a determined glare and shouted, “And one!”
She made the free throw for a 19-10 lead with 7 1/2 minutes left in the first half.
North Carolina State committed four turnovers over the final 3 minutes of the half, though, UCLA flipped the game over with a 14-0 run that stretched 90 seconds into the second half. The key was cranking up the backcourt pressure on defense.
“We want them to panic while we maintain our composure,” Tukiainen said.
Dixon kept the Bruins on track, deftly using her moves and her muscle in the lane to lengthen the lead and spur her team on toward the second round.
Amber White turned a steal into a layup to cut UCLA’s advantage to 41-37, but that was as close as the Wolfpack came. The Bruins responded with a 16-2 spurt to seal it inside of the 8-minute mark.
“They really play to their strengths,” N.C. State coach Kellie Harper said, praising her fellow product of the Summitt academy at Tennessee: “She’s just competitive, and she’ll find a way to win.”
Harper finished her first season succeeding the late Kay Yow on a losing note, but she also has her program pointed in the right direction after helping the Wolfpack return to the tournament for the first time since Yow led them to the round of 16 in 2007.
“It built my character, and it built me to be a better leader,” Gartrell said, with red eyes as she reflected on the ups and downs of her career.