UCLA women advance to second round of NCAA basketball tournament

UCLA forward Atonye Nyingifa looks to score against Stetson guard Jama Sharp in the first half Saturday.
(Jay LaPrete / Associated Press)

— When Stetson missed its first nine field-goal attempts, good shots most of them, it seemed over for the Hatters.

When UCLA led by a couple of dozen points midway through the second half, this first-round NCAA game was all but over.

The third-seeded Bruins advanced to the second round with a 66-49 win over the Hatters (24-9) on Saturday.

UCLA (26-7) will play sixth-seeded Oklahoma on Monday at 4:15 p.m. PDT at St. John Arena. The Sooners (23-10) beat 11th-seeded Central Michigan 78-73 here in Saturday’s first game.


Cori Close, UCLA’s second-year head coach, said what most coaches feel this time of year.

“You’re so thankful to get to work another day, survive, advance, to compete. Now we get to try to get a little better,” Close said.

UCLA’s leading scorer, Nirra Fields, had only 13 points. Forward Jasmine Dixon had her 18th career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins. Atonye Nyingifa had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Stetson Coach Lynn Bria said that UCLA’s talent didn’t translate well on tape. “Their bigs, in person, are more mobile than you think,” Bria said. “They’re nothing fancy, but they do what they do very well. And I think we don’t see enough West Coast basketball in the East. I think the Pac-12 is probably the most underrated conference in the country.”


It wasn’t until Cherisse Burris made a layup with 14:42 left in the first half that Stetson scored. The Bruins had an 11-0 lead by that point, and never did the Hatters get closer than six.

Stetson shot only 29% from the field for the game (20 of 69), and a team that made 590 three-point shots this season made only four against UCLA.

“Coach emphasizes defense,” Fields said. “Defense first, and then we can improve the rest of the game.”

“We came in with a really big focus on defense,” Nyingifa said. “Our coach is proud of our team on defense. Rebounding and getting shots are second nature, but defense you have to think about.”


Bria said Stetson’s goal had been to defend the inside and hope to make UCLA live on outside shots. “But it didn’t matter,” Bria said. “We couldn’t score. They do such a good job of getting out and defending shooters.”

UCLA led 36-20 at halftime, and it was that close only because Stetson had created two quick turnovers and had two quick baskets in the final 10 seconds. But the Bruins scored the first six points of the second half to take a 42-20 lead. The fourth and sixth points came from guard Mariah Williams, who hadn’t scored in the first half.

“They just have great balance,” Bria said. “They’re just a very good team. And I emphasize ‘team.’”

Even though it was hard to tell, Nyingifa said the Bruins were a little skittish at the beginning. “There was a little bit of nervousness to get out of the way,” she said. “But we were focused, so it was fairly easy for us to get shots up and play the way we normally do.”


Oklahoma 78, Central Michigan 73: Aaryn Ellenberg led the Sooners with 22 points and Joanna McFarland added 18 points and 17 rebounds. Ellenberg scored a game-high 24 points when UCLA won at Oklahoma, 86-80, in November.

Sooners Coach Sherri Coale wasn’t ready to talk about Monday’s game against UCLA after her team committed 24 turnovers. “Central Michigan gave us all we wanted and then some,” she said.