LOS ANGELES – When pesky American University made a run, UCLA turned to its leaders to counter each time and finally the Bruins were able fend off the Eagles and advance.
Monique Billings scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds, Kennedy Burke added 15 points to lead No. 3 seed UCLA to a 71-60 win over 14th-seeded AU in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
“We took hard shots at first but then we found easier shots and were able to finish,” said Billings, who made 7-of-17 shots and had three steals. “I had three people on me and that gave others opportunities. We all have to do a better job rebounding.”
Burke also said UCLA needs to pick up their game.
“Today wasn’t our best game, we made too many mental errors,” Burke said. “We have to correct that.”
Jordin Canada had 10 points and 11 assists for the Bruins (25-7), who advance to the second round.
We’ve been here before, we need to slow it down at times and keep our composure,” Canada said.
Cecily Carl led American (26-7) with 22 points and 10 rebounds and Elina Koskimies added 13 points and Maria Liddane scored 12 points. AU outrebounded UCLA in the game 36-33.
After the Eagles took an early lead to start the game, the Bruins countered with a 22-3 run over the final 4:33 of the opening quarter to build a double-digit advantage and take control. Billings scored 10 points during the UCLA surge as the Bruins opened a 27-12 lead after the first quarter.
She finished with 12 points in the first half as the Bruins led 38-25 at the break.
“Give a lot credit to American, they won 26 games for a reason,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We made a run early and they hung in there. We can’t this for granted. It’s a privilege to earn an opportunity to play another game this time of year. We are very fortunate because we made way too many mental errors. We missed 11 layups in the first half. They (AU) are a confident group.”
American cut the lead to 45-41 following Liddane’s basket at the 4:33 mark of the third quarter but wasn’t able to draw any closer. UCLA rallied and upped its lead to 63-48 on a bucket by Lajahna Drummer with 6:48 to play but had to work to hold the Eagles off. The Bruins improved 14-2 at home this season and are 45-3 at home over the past three years.
“I thought UCLA was really prepared, Eagles coach Megan Gebbia said. “They are an unbelievable team. The second quarter was the difference in the game. Their quickness did not surprise us. We had to gamble and give something up. We tried to limit their 3’s. It’s hard to prepare for a team like that.”
Saturday’s game was the first time the two teams have played against each other.
American: The Eagles have had a historic 2017-18 season, culminating in the program’s second Patriot League Tournament title in four years. Led by the Patriot League Coach of the Year Megan Gebbia and Patriot League Player of the Year, senior Emily Kinneston, AU earned a new program record with its 26 wins and went undefeated at home for the first time since the 1970s at 16-0.
UCLA: The Bruins, led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year senior guard Canada, are making their 15th NCAA tournament appearance. UCLA’s best finish was in 1999 when they reached the Elite Eight.
Lisa Leslie Award candidate
UCLA center Monique Billings was named one of 5 finalists for the Lisa Leslie Award, presented to the top collegiate center in women’s basketball. Billings, who led the Pac 12 in rebounding and double doubles this season, is joined on the list by Kalani Brown (Baylor), Teaira McCowan (Mississippi State), A’ja Wilson (South Carolina) and Mercedes Russell (Tennessee). The winner will be announced during the ESPN’s telecast of the national semifinal games in Columbus on Friday March 30.
Making their mark
The Eagles, making only their second NCAA appearance, won the Patriot League for the second time in four years. AU won 20 of 22 games entering the tournament and have limited their opponents to 57.4 points per game.
UCLA: The Bruins will play Iowa or Creighton on Monday in the second round on Monday.
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