WESTWOOD—On Tuesday, the magical season ended for the UCLA Women’s Basketball team after falling to the top seeded Cornhuskers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament 83-70.
In the first round of the tournament last Sunday, the Bruins hardly looked like a young team that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in four years. From the very beginning the North Carolina Wolfpack had no chance to survive the devastating inside-outside game of the Bruins.
Leading the onslaught was Senior Erica Tukiainen and Sophomore Jasmine Dixon. Tukiainen lit it up from outside with three long range baskets and finished with 12 points, while Dixon was a force on the inside, despite being a little undersized, putting up 17 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Head Coach Nikki Caldwell is a defensive specialist and her defense was on full display in the opening game for the Bruins. After falling behind early in the game 19-10, the Bruins dug in on defense to force four turnovers in the final 3 minutes of the first half, which led to a 14-0 run that spanned the end of the first half and a little over a minute in the second. North Carolina State tried to mount a comeback midway through the second half, but a run of 16-2 by the Bruins quickly put an end to any hopes the Wolfpack had in coming back. The game ended up being nothing more than a blowout, with the final score standing as 74-54.
Feeling good after their first tournament win in about four years, the Bruins were very optimistic about their chances coming into the second round against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are the top-seeded team in their region.
With the presence of Dixon on the court the Bruins were able to go toe-to-toe with the Cornhuskers. Their suffocating defense caused a lot of problems for Nebraska’s star player Dominique Kelley and the rest of her team, but after Dixon had to ride the bench for the remainder of the first half due to early foul trouble, the Bruins weren’t able to keep that same pace going in the second half. UCLA got 13 points from Dixon and 15 points from both Doreena Campbell and Darxia Morris, but unfortunately the rest of the team couldn’t pick up the slack. The underlying story of the game could be found at the free throw line. As a team the Bruins were 90 percent from the charity strip, which is exceptional, but the problem was they only had 10 attempts. The Cornhuskers were a little further down the spectrum. Their percentage was only 65, but they took 38 free throws and made 25. Other than that it was a fairly even matchup between both teams, but the inexperience of the Bruins eventually caught up to them. For the seniors it was hard to have the season come to an end, they were all glad they were able to make it the Big Dance in their final season.
“We’ve had a long journey and had our ups and downs. I’m so happy that I got to go to the tournament, at the same time I’m sad I don’t get to be with my teammates. I’ll miss being around these girls. We had a blast both on and off the court,” said senior guard Erica Tukianen.
The good news for all you Bruin basketball fans is that the bulk of the team will be coming back next year to try and improve on their results from this past season. They finished with a record of 25-9 and with their first tournament win and appearance since the days of former head coach Kathy Oliver, but next year the team is hoping it can do something even better.