Los Angles, CA — As the anxious fans, players, and coaches entered Pauley Pavilion on the beautiful UCLA campus, the energy and anticipation for the game seemed to be as high as these incredible athlete’s stature. Going into day two of the NCAA Tournament with a fairly even matchup between the UCLA Bruins (23-8 ) and Boise State (25-7), these teams each proved throughout the regular season that they each equally deserved to be exactly where they were --competing with the best of the best.
The royal blue/orange and gold/light blue combinations drenched the stands, and with the sound of the first whistle, it was show time.
And show time it was.
Within the first three minutes of the game, UCLA star Monique Billings scored the first bucket, hungry to start the game off with digits on the scoreboard. Teammate Lajahna Drummer added to the UCLA tally immediately, leaving no room for Boise State to attack. As Billings would say post-game, “You can’t overlook anyone in March--these games--they really are madness.”
After racking up the first 15 points in the game with a zero on the scoreboard for the Broncos, this seasonal state came out of winter and officially sprang into action with an aggressive comeback led by Marta Hermida. With the loud squeaks and shrieks of rubber soles on the floor as confirmation of the team’s steady hustle.
Despite the small comeback, the court became UCLA’s playground during the first quarter, and this game seemed like it was in favor of the Bruins with a first quarter finish of 20-12, but was still a true tug-of-war between these two warrior-filled teams.
As the second period began to commence, UCLA continued to take the lead, with Billings and Kari Korver leading their team with their beautiful baskets. Marijke Vanderschaaf and Brooke Pahukoa of Boise State did not let these points tally without a challenge, pushing the Bruins to their limits and making them work --but UCLA was ready for the push-back.
By intermission, the Bruins were up 44-27.
At the start of the second half, with 15 seconds into the game, UCLA started off strong once again and powerful with the first chance to the basket. The fans and the player’s energy seemed to unite as one as the cheers and jeers of “U-C-L-A Fight-Fight-Fight” were chanted back, from the court to the bleachers.
After consecutive turnovers from Boise State’s bad case of butterfingers, the Bruins picked up another bucket and a three-pointer immediately from Jordin Canada and Korver. Canada would later credit her game success to her incredible teammates during the press conference.
“They make me the player I am, they’ve pushed me past my limits--and I couldn’t appreciate them more for that.”
After a time-out called by UCLA, the team was even more energized, only allowing sporadic opportunities for the Broncos, with Pahukoa taking the initiative to score two field goals for her team. With a third quarter finish of 64-47, it was an uphill battle for Boise State to try and come back to pull off the upset-win.
Time seemed as if it was standing still at moments where the teams looked like they were moving at the speed of light --down to one end of the court and back again.
Once again, Billings scored the first points of the period. While her point total was high, racking up 19 on the night (7-10, 5-for12- from the freethrow line) her foul count was high as well. Immediately following scoring, she picked up her fourth personal foul which sent her to the bench. Boise State continued to wrangle on the court in hopes to cut their deficit as Billings headed to the sidelines. However, Kennedy Burke and Paulina Hersler stepped up in her absence to defend the paint for the Bruins.
With a final score of 83-56, the Bruins walked away as the victors.
As Coach Cori Close said post-game, it wasn’t just skill that brought UCLA the victory, but she credited her win to the mindset of the team. “We’ve stressed it from the beginning,” she said, “the key for us was falling in love with the process of preparation, and falling in love with making a play for someone else.”
Looks like this key worked like a charm. The UCLA Bruins will advance to play again Monday against the winner of Texas A & M and Pennsylvania