UCLA looking to control tempo against Hawai’i
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The UCLA Bruins will be looking for the gas pedal, whether they have the basketball or not.
Third seed UCLA (24-8) faces No. 14 seed Hawaii on Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The winner will face the winner between sixth-seeded South Florida (23-9) and No. 11 seed Colorado State (31-1) on Monday in the sub-regionals at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
“It all starts on the defensive end,” said UCLA senior Nirra Fields. “When we get stops, and we get into transition, that’s our strength. I think that builds a lot of our offense.”
The Bruins, third-place finishers in the Pac-12, were 20-2 this season when scoring 70 points or more. The Rainbow Wahine (21-10) won 11 of their last 12 games, including the Big West Tournament, by holding opponents to 53.5 points per game. Something has to give.
“I think they would rather have it more methodical, have us go deep into the shot clock, for them to control tempo,” said UCLA Coach Cori Close. “Definitely, we have contrasting styles, and whoever is able to impose their will of their style will probably have an easier game.”
The only two games since December that Hawaii has allowed an opponent 70 points, they lost. However, the Rainbow Wahine don’t fear a fast-paced game.
“We know what UCLA can do on makes and misses,” said Hawaii Coach Laura Beeman. “They have one of the best point guards in the country in Jordin Canada. I’m not going to say a running game is a disadvantage (for Hawai’i), but it has to be done smartly by us. We can’t take quick shots. We can’t turn the ball over. We are also a very, very good running team with a lot of depth, so we’re not afraid to put the ball on the floor and push our team. We just have to do it smartly.”
When asked how the Bruins stay uptempo against Hawaii, Close pointed to UCLA’s series against Arizona State, a team that beat UCLA 65-61 in their first meeting only to see the Bruins prevail 74-61 in the rematch.
“What we learned from the first time we played them versus the second time we played them, and how we were able to get the tempo back into our favor,” said Close. “To the extent that we’re able to control tempo is to the extent to which we play our defense.”
SO CLOSE TO PERFECT
No. 11 seed Colorado State (31-1), Mountain West Tournament and regular-season champs, missed a perfect regular season by a single point, the only loss coming at Penn 49-48 on Nov. 24. The other 31 weren’t easy, however, as the No. 22 Rams won three games by a single point - including the tournament championship game against Fresno State last Friday - one game by two points, and another in double overtime.
“When you look at Colorado State and their roster, and the schedule they played, you don’t win 31 games if you’re not a good basketball team,” said South Florida Coach Jose Fernandez. “I don’t think different teams will not go there to play them. It’s tough for them to get home games. . I definitely think they’re a lot better than where they are seeded. That’s for sure.”
SOME SIGHT-SEEING, TOO
South Florida, runner-up in the American Athletic Conference Tournament and regular season, brings a roster made up of seven European players, four players from Florida, two from Georgia, and one each from Arkansas and Ohio. The trip to California is a first for the squad ranked No. 21, so some sightseeing was in order.
“It’s our first time. It’s really nice,” said South Florida senior forward Laura Ferreira with a big smile and a giggle. “We went to Hollywood and walked around to see all the Stars on the floor, to the Chinese theatre. And the Hollywood sign far away.”
“They took a lot of pictures,” said South Florida Coach Jose Fernandez. “And they bought a whole lot of souvenirs that I don’t know what they’re going to do with.”
The Rams have won 28 games in a row, the second-longest active streak in the nation, behind Connecticut (69).
RACKING UP THE MILES
After winning Big West Tournament on Saturday night, the Rainbow Wahine flew back to Honolulu on Sunday, were in class on Monday and Tuesday before flying back to Los Angeles on Wednesday morning. That’s three 5+ hour flights and more than 7,500 miles in the air since a week ago Monday.
“We’re 12-3 on the road, so we’re confident when we hit the road,” said Coach Beeman. “We know how to travel. It’s a business trip to us. “We’re definitely familiar with LAX, with the 405 traffic. Being here a week ago for the Big West Tournament definitely keeps things familiar for our girls.”