KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jordin Canada was struggling with her shot, Texas had emerged from the locker room on a run and UCLA was suddenly reeling in a game that was shaping up a lot like their Sweet 16 matchup two years ago.
This time, Canada and the Bruins rose to the occasion.
Canada finished with 22 points, often putting the second-seeded Bruins on her back, and UCLA held on for an 84-75 victory Friday night to avenge that frustrating loss to the Longhorns.
“When they came out on their run, I didn’t have any doubt. We’ve been here before,” said Canada, who was scoreless at the break. “That was the difference between this time and two years ago, we were able to stay together as a team and play ball. There wasn’t any one individual.
“Everybody stuck together through that adversity and I thought that was the difference.”
Monique Billings added 17 points and Kennedy Burke had 15 for the Bruins (27-7), who finally made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament after falling a game short the past two seasons.
They’ll face top-seeded Mississippi State on Sunday night for their first Final Four trip.
“I thought we needed other people to step up and support Jordin and Monique to move on, and that’s what we did,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “I’m so happy for the seniors who were courageous enough to dream big and play big and have an opportunity to play for a spot in the Final Four.”
Ariel Atkins had 20 points and Jatarie White had 17 for the No. 3 seed Longhorns (28-7), who kept falling into deep holes, slowly digging their way out and then letting UCLA pull away once more.
Texas made one last charge when it got back-to-back 3-pointers from Atkins and Alecia Sutton to close within 76-72 with less than 2 minutes left. But Burke answered with a layup for UCLA, and Canada’s jumper with just under a minute to go helped put the game away.
UCLA wound up shooting 56.3 percent from the field in the second half.
“They looked like a really hungry team and one that had not been there in quite some time, by the way they played,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “So credit absolutely goes to them.”
The Bruins forged a 19-11 lead after the first quarter, then used their speed and athleticism to create turnovers and coast to easy layups to keep the Longhorns at bay.
Billings had 11 points at halftime, when UCLA had a 39-31 lead.
It was Texas that came out roaring in the second half, though. Atkins began the charge with a 3, Brooke McCarty scored back-to-back baskets, and by the time Close called a timeout the lead her team had spent the first half building had been wiped away.
“Our message at halftime was just to stick to our game,” Atkins said. “We hadn’t played our type of basketball for the first half, and the beginning of the third quarter we got into a flow.”
It didn’t last long.
The Bruins eventually calmed down, and they proceeded to rip off a 17-4 run to end the third quarter. They forced three turnovers in a span of four possessions at one point, and were helped along by wild shots that McCarty and the rest of the Longhorns were forced to put up.
It was 59-49 at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Longhorns quickly closed to within six points, only for the lead to spool out once more. Canada scored seven straight for the Bruins at one point, then contributed to every crucial play down the stretch.
“UCLA was really good tonight,” Aston said, “and sometimes you want to blame your kids or try to figure out what went wrong, but I think a lot of what went wrong was UCLA was really exceptional.”
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