March 11, 2011
LOS ANGELES (AP) -
Before UCLA's seemingly inevitable showdown with Stanford in the Pac-10 tournament title game, the Bruins had to handle the league's other Bay Area team.
Unfortunately for CALIFORNIA, the mighty Bruins weren't caught looking ahead.
Atonye Nyingifa had a season-high 17 points and nine rebounds, Darxia Morris added 14 points, and No. 7 UCLA easily advanced to the Pac-10 final with a 63-50 victory over the Golden Bears on Friday.
Doreena Campbell scored 12 points as the second-seeded Bruins (27-3) controlled almost every minute of yet another lopsided Pac-10 women's basketball matchup. The Bruins executed their offense crisply, and their trapping defense forced 19 turnovers, showing no ill effects from the double-bye awarded to the league's top two teams.
"You can't just look ahead," Morris said. "We knew Cal was a good team, so we had to play well on offense and defense."
With the formalities finished, UCLA will meet No. 2 Stanford in Saturday's final, wrapping up a conference season in which the schools thoroughly dominated play. The Cardinal beat the Bruins twice during the regular season, but UCLA won its other 16 league games.
"I'm excited for this team, excited that they've put themselves in a position to play for a Pac-10 championship," coach Nikki Caldwell said. "We're not the biggest team in the conference, nor in the country, so we want to use our athleticism, quickness and versatility to make sure we're disrupting people away from the basket as much as we can."
That's exactly what the Bruins did against Cal, harassing the rebuilding Golden Bears from the opening minutes while taking an 11-1 lead.
UCLA scored the game's first eight points, and the Bruins' lead never dipped below double digits for the final 31 minutes, even though star forward Jasmine Dixon managed just four points. The Bruins also made just one 3-pointer and had 14 turnovers of their own, yet never were threatened by the Bears.
Afure Jemerigbe scored 17 points for Cal (17-15), which beat Washington and upset third-seeded Arizona State to reach the semifinals.
"I think we struggled (with their press)," Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. "We got punched in the head a little bit, and then we were just deflated and didn't really respond. ... We struggled to make layups. Our confidence was shook. We're not going to get better shots than right-handed layups."
The Bears went 3 for 19 from 3-point range, and leading scorer DeNesha Stallworth managed just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting along with eight rebounds. Second-leading scorer Layshia Clarendon also struggled, going 0 for 6 - including four missed 3-point attempts - while battling foul trouble.
"It was tough. I felt like we were not poised," Jemerigbe said. "I think we hid behind a lot of UCLA players and forced Layshia to handle the ball a lot."
In Caldwell's third season, UCLA is just two wins shy of the school-record 29 victories by the 1980-81 team, with a high NCAA seed awaiting next week. Another historic achievement is available at Staples Center, however: The Bruins also are just one win away from just the second Pac-10 tournament title in school history.
"Nikki has got them in a great place, really playing hard and heading for ... probably a long run in the NCAA tournament," Boyle said.
But Stanford knocked the Bruins out of the Pac-10 tournament in each of Caldwell's first two seasons, including a 70-46 victory in last season's championship game at Staples. Stanford then easily handled the Bruins twice this season, including a 14-point win last month in Westwood without injured star forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike.
"They have a very balanced offensive team to stretch you," Caldwell said of the Cardinal. "We're going to really have to focus in on being stronger and being much tougher than we have been. The possessions we take off, a team like Stanford is going to exploit you."
Although the Bears seem poised for a surge back to elite status next season with a lineup dominated by promising freshmen and sophomores, Boyle's squad wasn't ready to compete with UCLA or Stanford this season. Cal lost six of its final regular-season games, including a 24-point loss to Stanford in Berkeley, before its tournament surge.
"I'm just disappointed with our effort," Boyle said. "Just trying to get our team to compete, it kind of tells the story of our season. Just to compete day in and day out for 40 minutes, I think we need to learn how to become that team."