Final exams are around the corner and the Bruins had to attend class.
But UCLA on Saturday will host Boise State in a first-round game at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins (23-8) earned an at-large bid and are seeded fourth in the Bridgeport, Conn., Regional. Boise State (25-7) is seeded 13th.
Coach Cori Close said the Bruins would find time to celebrate their inclusion in the 64-team field before quickly turning to study an unfamiliar opponent.
“It’s very tempting to almost over prepare in terms of talking about the opponent,” Close said. “But I also don’t want to overlook that we have to make them take away what we do best and that’s playing to our strengths on a consistent basis.”
Boise State finished in a tie for third place in the Mountain West Conference regular-season standings but won the conference tournament to earn an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament and is riding a 10-game winning streak.
The winner of the first-round game will play Monday at Pauley against No. 5 Texas A&M or No. 12 Pennsylvania.
UCLA has not advanced beyond the third round of the NCAA tournament since 1999, when the Bruins lost in a regional final, and faces long odds of making a deep run this season.
If the Bruins win their first two games they probably would face top-seeded Connecticut in Bridgeport. The Huskies are 32-0, winners of their last 107 games and have won six of the last eight NCAA titles, including four in a row.
“When it first comes up on the screen, you look at the bracket as it’s whole and you go, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in U-Conn’s bracket,’” Close said. “But what a great problem to have. … You’ve got to embrace that.”
Close said that she would not allow the Bruins to discuss the potential matchup and, within 90 minutes of the bracket reveal, had sent a text message to her team that they were to discuss only Boise State.
“We need to be focused on preparing and doing the work that it takes to earn the right to even play them,” Close said.
This season required the Bruins to develop versatility on offense. Unable to consistently knock down three-point shots, they turned to the post for scoring.
Junior guard Jordin Canada averages 18 points and 6.6 assists a game and junior forward Monique Billings averages 16.8 points and 10.7 rebounds.
Connecticut is the clear favorite to win a fifth consecutive title. The Huskies have endured only two scares this season: a two-point victory over Florida State in their opener and a three-point win at Tulane last month.
South Carolina and Notre Dame earned automatic bids after winning the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments, respectively. If they advance beyond the second round, South Carolina would travel to Stockton for the regional semifinals and Notre Dame to Lexington, Ky.
The national semifinals and championship game will be played in Dallas.
Long Beach State, making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1992 after winning the Big West tournament, is a No. 15 seed and will open against No. 2 Oregon State at Corvallis, Ore., on Friday.