Tough Loss For The Lady Griz
When the field for the NCAA tournament was announced and UCLA saw it was a No. 3 seed, the Bruins instantly felt slighted.Given a chance Saturday to prove they deserved better, they did very little to show they belonged any higher.
Jasmine Dixon scored 15 points, including a key up-and-under basket with 56 seconds left, and the Bruins finally shook 14th-seeded Montana in the closing moments for a 55-47 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"I think we just played well enough to win," Doreena Campbell said. "We were lacking in a lot of spots. We have to make a quick change."
UCLA's trapping, pressure defense did its job, forcing the Lady Griz into 25 turnovers and long stretches without points. But every other part of UCLA's game was out of rhythm and sloppy.
The Bruins (28-4) committed 19 turnovers and shot just 42 percent, and leading scorer Darxia Morris finished with four points and five turnovers.
It was unimpressive and surprising for UCLA's inability to put away Montana. At least the Bruins realize their effort against the Lady Griz won't suffice when the challenge is against Gonzaga on its home floor Monday night in the second round.
"We're looking forward to still being able to play. We understand that," UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said. "But this team also understands they have a tough opponent ahead of them and that they also understand they cannot come out and play flat. We have to be not hungry, but starving to advance."
Montana, which won the Big Sky Conference tournament with three straight wins, was led by Alyssa Smith's 14 points. Montana (18-15) closed within 36-30 midway through the second half and 51-47 with 1:16 left but couldn't complete the comeback from 11 points down.
"It just seemed like we couldn't get a lead," Smith said.
Montana could never overtake the Bruins thanks to UCLA's pressing, trapping defense that slowed the pace to a halt at times and frustrated Montana into 15 turnovers in the first half and 33 percent shooting for the game.
The Bruins needed all those turnovers they forced because of their own problems scoring at the offensive end.
"That's something this time of year — you have to have your Batman and Robin in sync, and when they're not and when you're missing opportunities to do so, you're going to struggle," Caldwell said.
A day before facing Montana, Caldwell talked about how last year the team just enjoyed being back in the tournament for the first time since 2006. UCLA lost to Nebraska in the second round a year ago.
This year, it's about advancing past the first weekend, especially after feeling slighted by the seeding. Getting to the regional semifinals won't be an easy task for the Bruins, having to face the 11th-seeded Bulldogs on their home floor Monday night. Gonzaga beat sixth-seeded Iowa 92-86 earlier Saturday.
Most of the 6,000 fans that crammed McCarthy Athletic Center to see the hometown team win didn't stick around for the back end of the doubleheader.
UCLA might be glad they didn't. Montana closed within 51-47 on Stephanie Stender's two free throws with 1:16 remaining.
Dixon then came up with her two biggest plays. She scored in the lane to push the lead back to six, then stole a pass in the backcourt and was fouled. She made it a three-possession game by hitting one of two free throws.
Dixon made four of nine shots and was 7 for 12 at the free throw line, while Rebekah Gardner and Campbell both finished with 11 points, making up for an off night by Morris.
"We missed a lot of opportunities to knock down shots," Gardner said. "They played a great defensive game, but we could have done more on offense to counteract that."
Sarah Ena added nine points for Montana, but the Lady Griz could never recover from their first-half struggles. Leading scorer Katie Baker, who comes off the bench, finished with just six points. Montana went 7 minutes without a field goal in the first half, yet trailed only 26-17 at halftime.
Montana was making its 19th NCAA appearance but hasn't won in its last nine trips. The Lady Griz last won an NCAA tournament game in 1995 with an upset of San Diego State.
"These ladies made a believer out of me," Montana coach Robin Selvig said. "I thought we had a chance today and we did."
Stroy from the Associated Press