UCLA Outlasts Stanford

Times Staff Writer

The only thing that hadn't happened in five years of women's Pacific 10 Conference tournaments was overtime in the championship game.

That occurred Monday night. And the surprise was it was UCLA that forced the extra session against the bigger, deeper Stanford Cardinal.

And instead of being tired from coming back from a 13-point second-half deficit, or being exhausted from playing their third game in three days for the first time this season, the Bruins found an extra gear to push past the top-seeded and 13th-ranked Cardinal, 85-76, in the highest-scoring game in the tournament's brief history.

It was the first title for the Bruins (20-10), who have won five consecutive games and 10 of 12. They reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since 1998-99. They claimed the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. And after losing 14 consecutive games to Stanford, UCLA has defeated the Cardinal in their last two meetings.

"Stanford is a great team and they battled the whole time," Coach Kathy Olivier said. "Our players just kept fighting. I was a little concerned with two minutes left but the looks in their eyes -- they had a real hunger -- I'm so proud of them."

Lisa Willis, who had 20 points before fouling out in overtime, was selected the tournament's most outstanding player. Noelle Quinn led the Bruins with 22 points and eight rebounds, and Nikki Blue had 14 points and eight assists.

Willis set a tournament record with 19 steals and equaled a record with 11 three-point baskets.

"This is a great feeling because we've been on both sides," Willis said. "Losing the way we had, this makes it much sweeter."

Stanford got 23 points from Candice Wiggins and 22 from Brooke Smith. But Wiggins, the regular-season player of the year, missed all five shots she took in the overtime, and Smith made only one shot. As a team, the Cardinal was two for 10 in the overtime. UCLA was three for four, but eight for 10 from the free-throw line down the stretch.

"UCLA played an excellent game," Coach Tara VanDerveer said. "I thought we had some opportunities to seal it in the last 3-4 minutes. But they are so explosive and so athletic. To their credit, they really hung tough. And there's no shame in losing to three [WNBA] draft picks."

Stanford's game plan was apparent from the outset when Smith scored three of the Cardinal's first four baskets from three feet or less. That started the Bruins collapsing on Smith every time the ball came to her, and opened up the perimeter for Wiggins and Krista Rappahahn. But while Wiggins was scoring in the first half (11 points), Rappahahn was not (four points).

Still, by the 7-minute 21-second mark of the half, the Cardinal led, 27-14, and had the Bruins on the ropes. The Bruins dug in defensively the rest of the half, however, and narrowed the gap to 31-25 by halftime.

Early in the second half, Stanford widened the gap to 43-33 on three-pointer by center Kristen Newlin, her first on the season and only third of her career. Wiggins followed with another three-pointer. And even though Blue replied with a four-point play -- making a three-pointer while getting fouled by Rosalyn Gold-Onwude -- the Cardinal appeared to get the spark it needed to seize control.

Stanford couldn't shake the Bruins, who came all the way back on Quinn's basket with 5.8 seconds left to force overtime.

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