No. 14 UCLA women answer Utah and win 54-43
Jasmine Dixon and Atonye Nyingifa both scored 11 points, and No. 14 UCLA held off Utah’s second-half rally for a 54-43 win over the Utes in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Conference tournament on Friday.
The Bruins saw all of an 11-point second-half lead evaporate, only to close the game with an impressive answer to Utah taking its only lead of the game. The reward for UCLA is No. 5 California in the semifinals on Saturday night. UCLA (24-6) was swept by California during the regular season, including a 28-point loss at home last month.
“We always preach that defense and rebounding will hold you when you have a poor offensive game,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “All of us can acknowledge that we didn’t have a very good offensive game tonight, but our defense and our rebounding is what held us and we’re thankful to play another day.”
Alyssia Brewer added 10 points for the Bruins, but missed a large portion of the game after leaving with an injury midway through the first half. She limped off the court with 8:59 left in the first half, but returned early in the second half.
Despite losing Brewer, the Bruins led by as many as 13 in the first half and 11 early in the second half before watching Utah stage a furious rally to take its only lead of the game on Cheyenne Wilson’s baseline jumper with 9:30 left. It put the Utes in front 37-35 and capped a 15-2 run. The response by UCLA to losing its lead was even better.
Markel Walker scored on a backdoor lob out of a timeout to retake the lead and Dixon and Nyingifa made four straight free throws. That was followed by a pair of huge baskets from Mariah Williams, both times with the shot clock about to expire. She scored on a jumper in the lane for a 46-39 lead and moments later banked an 18-footer with 2 seconds on the shot clock to push the lead to 49-39. Walker added a basket in the lane to cap the Bruins’ 16-2 answer.
“I think it was an emotional thing. I don’t think it was a tactical thing. It’s really a credit to experienced players making hard choices and being trustworthy for their team,” Close said.
Michelle Plouffe had 10 points and 14 rebounds for Utah (18-13), but made just 3 of 13 shots. UCLA’s response coincided with Utah second-leading scorer Taryn Wicijowski picking up her fourth foul and going to the bench just moments after Wilson’s go-ahead jumper.
“I think that was a huge call, but that’s the way basketball works,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. “It was a big turning point in the game not having one of your really key players on the floor, but that’s the way it goes.”
Utah reached the quarterfinals after beating Arizona in the first round. They struggled badly with turnovers in the first half against UCLA, taking only 17 shots thanks to 12 turnovers, but the Utes were more poised in the second half and put a major scare into the Bruins.
Utah’s rally started after missing five straight shots early in the second half. Plouffe and Rachel Messer hit consecutive 3-pointers to cap a 10-0 run that pulled the Utes within 33-32 with 14:02 remaining. Brewer scored for UCLA to push the Bruins lead back to three, only to see Plouffe tie the game at 35 after her offensive rebound putback while being fouled. After Brewer missed for UCLA, Wilson hit a baseline jumper to give Utah its first lead at 37-35 with 9:30 remaining.
But Utah shot just 35 percent and was 2 of 15 on 3-point attempts after shooting 35 percent on 3s during the season. Wilson and Wicijowski both added 10 points for the Utes.
“I feel like we just missed shots that we normally make,” Wicijowski said.