As the top four seeded teams matched up in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament semifinals Sunday, UCLA was the only one without seemingly clear postseason plans.
But after their 69-64 loss to ninth-ranked Stanford in front of 3,370 at the HP Pavilion, the Bruins (18-11) believe they joined Stanford, Arizona and Washington in expecting an NCAA tournament invitation.
"I think 18 wins is great," UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier said. "We play in a very strong conference, and we have proven ourselves in this conference the whole year. The only team we haven't beaten in this conference is Stanford.... I think this game should have put us over the edge. I'd be very surprised if they don't pick us."
UCLA, seeded fourth, made its case by surging back from a 15-point second-half deficit and surprising the top-seeded Cardinal (25-4). But the Bruins could not keep Stanford out of the tournament championship for the second consecutive year. The Cardinal will play Arizona tonight for the conference's automatic NCAA bid.
Statistically, Stanford, which led, 31-25, at halftime, looked as if it should have won by 20. It outrebounded UCLA, 49-21; shot 44.9% to the Bruins' 34.5%; and limited one of UCLA's top scorers, Nikki Blue, to two-for-12 shooting, although she finished with 12 points.
On top of that, UCLA's leader, Michelle Greco, took an inadvertent elbow from teammate Whitney Jones in the first half and had to wear a facemask most of the game, hindering her breathing.
"I had broken the nose back in October, but it didn't break again," said Greco, who scored 14 points. "I just started bleeding
But UCLA, as it has all season, kept the game chaotic with its pressure on defense. The Bruins had 17 steals and forced 25 Stanford turnovers. Seven came during a 6:50 stretch when the Bruins, trailing 52-37, ripped off a 22-6 run to take their first lead on a three-point shot by reserve Lisa Willis, who led UCLA with 17 points. With 1:56 to play, the score was tied, 61-61. Stanford had the ball out of bounds with one second on the shot clock. Kelly Suminski got the ball to Nicole Powell, who made a pivotal three-point shot from more than 25 feet out.
"Powell is such a great player, a clutch player," Greco said. "She definitely was not the person we wanted to have with the ball and one second remaining."
"When [UCLA] took the lead I was kind of burned up inside," said Powell, who led Stanford with 18 points. Of her big three-pointer, she said: "I knew I was free on the floor. I'm just glad I hit it."
Added Coach Tara VanDerveer: "I'm proud of my team and the [late] poise they showed. But we were kind of the turnover queens, and that hurt us."
In the other semifinal:
No. 22 Arizona 74, No. 25 Washington 51 -- The third-seeded Wildcats scored the final 11 points of the first half to build a 31-19 lead and overpowered the second-seeded Huskies to reach their first Pac-10 tournament championship.
Arizona, which got 22 points from Shawntinice Polk, shot a tournament-record 53.6%. Washington's Giuliana Mendiola, the Pac-10 regular-season player of the year, was limited to seven points and left the game in the second half after spraining her right ankle.