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UCLA women's soccer tunes up for NCAA Tournament, knocks off defending champion USC in overtime

On their final road trip of the regular season last month, the USC and UCLA women's soccer teams shared an Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle.

"Happens from time to time," USC coach Keidane McAlpine said of the flight which, not unexpectedly, was rocked by turbulence.

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Friday the teams shared a field at UCLA and the ride was equally as wild until the Bruins escaped with a physical 3-2 victory in overtime before an announced crowd of 11,925, the largest ever for an NCAA regular-season women's soccer match.

The winning goal came 80 seconds into the extra period when Ashley Sanchez banked a shot off a defender and over USC keeper Kaylie Collins.

UCLA (15-2-2, 8-2-1 Pac 12), ranked fifth nationally, not only pulled into a tie with USC for second in the conference standings, but it also improved its chances of earning a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament bracket, which will be announced next week. No. 6 USC (14-3-1, 8-2-1), the defending national champion, also is likely to open the postseason at home next Friday, but if the Bruins are given a top-two seed, they could play as many as four tournament games at home.

"Before the overtime, I told the girls this is a playoff game. Our playoffs start right now," UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell said. "This team is super resilient. I knew it was going to be a game like this."

USC struck first with Nicole Molen heading home a feed from Julia Bingham at the near post in the 11th minute for her third goal of the season. UCLA evened things briefly on Kaiya McCullough's rolling, right-footed shot from outside the box, but Molen restored the Trojans' lead in the 34th minute, poking the ball in during a wild scramble inside a crowded six-yard box.

That would be the Trojans' last score.

Anika Rodriguez pulled UCLA even again 20 minutes into a second half the Bruins dominated, stripping the ball from a defender deep in the USC end to set off a 2-on-1 break she finished with a deft shot. Sanchez then ended things on a golden goal on the first shot of overtime.

"It was a playoff game. The ebbs and flows, the ups and downs were all there," McAlpine said. "To lead twice, I expect us to win those games."

The crowd, which included the UCLA band, shattered the regular-season attendance record of 10,128 set three years ago when the Bruins and Trojans met at the Coliseum.

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11

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