USC, UCLA advance to semifinals with wins Friday

USC capitalized on a few key Oregon turnovers to narrowly beat them, 80-76 last night. It was disappointing, but it was a good game.

The UCLA-Oregon State game almost put me to sleep. UCLA is good enough where they had a bit of a breakdown at the end of the game and let OSU catch up, but they still whooped them 60-44.

UCLA coaches watched the first game, and Stanford coaches watched both games. Lisa Leslie, who looks to be ready to give birth any second, and her husband were also in press row. So were a few other basketball celebrities, the Sparks executive staff and some spare ESPN reporters.

I will be back in the house for the championship game Sunday. I hope it’s a good matchup.

First-half action during the Oregon-USC game.

Duck Micaela Cocks take the free throw in the second half.

UCLA supastah Jasmine Dixon puts one up in the first half of the UCLA-Oregon State game.

Bruin Moniquee Alexander is actually trying to do something under the basket (!)

Cool things 1: the Oregon band was spirited in a way that I’m used to from the great bands, i.e. some low-key heckling of the USC team. “If this is your home court, where are all your fans?” one yelled. Audience members were chuckling.

Cool things 2: OOO, UCLA players have some cool custom-made shoes.

Very uncool thing: the Oregon State band. Their attempts at heckling went way across the line. When UCLA forward Christina Nzekwe went to the free throw line in the first half, one of the OSU band members shouted at her: “You look like a man!”

No audience members laughed. I was stunned. And so glad Christina was all the way across the court, so that maybe she didn’t hear that.

I know Christina, and she’s one of the nicest kids you’re going to meet. I wonder why people don’t stop to think, when they say things like that, that the player’s family, friends and former coaches could be sitting there.

I’m an Oregon graduate and never liked OSU. I hate them now.

Someone I know is covering the event for the website for which they write, and asked UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell how she motivates her team. The LA Times got the exchange partially right in this write up. The moderator ended it after Caldwell said that days off are a motivator for the players too, and the reporter nodded and acknowledged that she knew that, as she followed the coaching staff and players on twitter. Caldwell found that amusing, and the moderator then said “let’s wrap it up.”

Some of the media in the room didn’t seem to know whether or not Caldwell was serious in her comments, and I know it’s because they don’t understand the Tennessee Way. They’re learning, though. And as Caldwell and the Bruins keep ascending the basketball ladder, they’ll figure it out even more.

Here are two write-ups on the games:

USC capitalized on a crucial Oregon turnover in the waning seconds of Friday night’s quarterfinal matchup to top the Ducks, 80-76, and advance to the next round.

The neck-and-neck game, which saw the two teams exchange leads eight times in the first half alone, went down to the last minute. Oregon had built a five point lead – 64-59 – with more than nine minutes to go, when USC went on an 11-3 run. The Trojan’s defense also disrupted the Ducks, causing them to turn the ball over five times in the next four minutes.

Dueling free throws made it a 73-71 USC lead with just under a minute to play. But Trojan point guard Ashley Corral hit a long-range three-point shot at the 24-second mark to put her team up by five. Duck sophomore guard Nia Jackson then calmly drove to the hoop, put it in and was fouled. She nailed the free shot to put her team within two points with 16 seconds to go.

Oregon then fouled Jacki Gemelos, who hit both free throws. But on the Ducks’ next possession, senior guard Taylor Lilley lost the ball out of bounds with 10 seconds to go. Oregon had no choice but to foul, and Gemelos again made both free throws, putting the game out of reach for the Ducks.

Lilley lead all scorers with 22 points. Briana Gilbreath had 19 for the Trojans, including 15 in the second half. Jackson and Oregon forward Victoria Kenyon each had 18, and Corral put up 16 for USC.

Oregon Coach Paul Westhead said that while his players’ efforts were laudable, their opponents had more at the end.

“SC made some big shots in the last minute, and that was the difference in the game,” he said.

USC Coach Michael Cooper acknowledged that Oregon’s up-tempo game style kept the Trojans on their toes.

“They were running and running and running, and that took a toll on us in the first half,” he said. “You know when you play Oregon that you’ve got to put on your track shoes and run with them.”

Cooper claimed that when USC was behind, he “wasn’t fearful.” At the same time, he recognized that the game could have gone either way.

“(This victory) means that our team was better on this particular night,” he said.

Both coaches are in their first years at their respective schools, and both teams have shown notable improvements under them: USC’s, most notably in its standings, finishing third in the Pac-10; Oregon’s, in its players.

Jackson and Lilley, who spoke after the game, are probably the players who seem to have improved the most under Westhead. Lilley, a senior, didn’t make any all- Pac-10 Tournament last year, but seems destined to make one this weekend. Jackson has played all season with a passion that Oregon fans haven’t seen before. She acknowledged that her game has “changed a lot” in playing for her new coach.

“He has given me a lot of confidence,” Jackson said of Westhead. “He’s given a lot of confidence to the entire team.”

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UCLA routed Oregon State Friday in the Pac 10 Tournament quarterfinals, 60-44.

The Bruins, who were never seriously challenged by the tenth-seeded Beavers, jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead to begin the game before their opponents were finally able to respond at the 17:01 mark. UCLA lead 37-18 at the half, and were ahead by as many as 21 points in the second period.

With 5:11 to go, OSU went on a small run and cut the lead to where it eventually was at game’s end. This lack of response, coupled with the Bruins’ 23 turnovers on the night, was cause for concern for Coach Nikki Caldwell, who said after the game that she was disappointed in her team’s effort.

“We worked hard all week, but we didn’t play together as a unit (tonight),” she said. “There was a lot of individual play out there, and that’s not who we are. We got away from the little things.”

Caldwell, whos main refrain is for the Bruins to play a full 40-minute game, acknowledged her team is still working on that. And she noted that sophomore forward Jasmine Dixon, who had 14 points on the night, and freshman forward Markel Walker, who added 10, were two of the strongest players on the squad. But Caldwell also noted that UCLA needs more.

“We have two very good players in Walker and Dixon, and they will be among the best in the country,” she said. “But we still need to find that leader who’s going to step up and lead this team.”

The Bruins will face cross-town rival USC in today’s semifinal matchup. The flame on the traditional rivalry was turned up several degrees in January, when Trojan Coach Michael Cooper cursed UCLA in a press conference following a game. The Bruins responded a few weeks later by routing the Trojans.

Both coach and players acknowledged that today’s game would probably be intense.

“We understand that SC is a team that’s very good at home, and we need to adapt to that because they’ll be very competitive here,” Caldwell said. “It’s about what we put on the floor tomorrow.”

Senior guard Erica Tukiainen added, “We have to execute our game plan and play Bruin basketball.”

Asked how she motivates her team, Caldwell said it begins with self-discipline.

“They won’t cheat each other by cheating practices,” she said. “They run their own practices, they do their own scouting reports, they watch film. It’s on them.”

“I tell them, ‘we coaches are done with our college careers. This is about you having your best career.'”

Caldwell said she makes practices competitive, with every drill having winners and losers. This increases player intensity. She also adds fun to the end of some sessions.

“They like it when we play dodgeball – they really do,” Caldwell said. “Days off are a motivation too.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Sue, hope you don't mind if I post my thoughts on the Semifinal game?

    First of all, it was a great win for the Bruins, and $c deserves credit. If they get a ticket to The Dance, I really think that they could win a game (but probably not two, since they'll likely get a low seed and be stuck facing a juggernaut in the second round). Ashley Corral is nails. I hate $c just on principle, but she's very, very hard not to like. And the team as a whole played us really tough tonight, limited our offensive rebounds (11 today, same as $c, which is only about 60% as many as we usually pull down), and the trojans also took very good care of the basketball (only 12 turnovers… we usually force about twice as many). Put-backs and points off turnovers have been our offensive bread and butter this season, so if a team can minimize those two things (as $c did this evening), we lose a lot of what makes us go and we really have to grind it out for points.

    Grinding it out is exactly what we did, though. All in all (and apologies in advance for the cliche), it just kinda seemed like we wanted it more. From my seat in Galen, it just really felt like the Bruin players wanted it more than $c's did… and so did the Bruin coaches, the Bruin fans, the Bruin band. I don't know, maybe it was just where I was sitting.

    BTW, I assume y'all noticed Coach Neuheisel in the stands. That was cool, but I thought it was even neater to see Erica Gomez in Galen (I was sitting just a few seats away from her). She's still one of my all time favorites.

    Okay, let's talk about tomorrow's game. I, for one, desperately hope that Erika Tukiainen is 100%. As much as I love Mariah Williams (and I do), she just can't hit a shot to save her life right now. As already mentioned, we tend to labor in a half-court setting, even under ideal circumstances. Trying to score points in the half-court with a non-shooting point guard is just that much more difficult.

    I'm a hopeless optimist, but I recognize that this'll be an incredibly tough matchup for us. Our starters played a lot of minutes today and burned a lot of emotional juice ('cause we badly wanted this W), while Stanford's headliners got plenty of rest in their laugher against Cal. As such, if we're gonna compete against the Cardinal, we're pretty much gonna have to do it on adrenaline and grit. It might take a miracle. But if (IF!) we can manage to get the W, it'd give our program a serious, marquee win this season (one we don't currently have to our name… we're 0-3 against teams in the RPi Top-25 ). I reckon a victory over #2 Stanford would give the Tournament Committee decent cause to seed us as high as 4th, while a loss may send us as far down as 6th or even 7th.

    The upshot of it all: our Bruins could really use our loud voices and our butts in Galen seats tomorrow (Sunday) for the final game, to root 'em on to a huge, huge win (and a Pac-10 championship!). So if anyone reading this has the chance to join me out at Galen (tip-off at 3pm), please do so!

    See you there!

    Patrick Meighan
    UCLA Class of '95

  2. You go on about what a great victory UCLA had over USC. However, you fail to mention that UCLA beat a USC team by 6 points that has just five scholarship players players on the floor and bench. Another two players were walk ons and the eighth player, Jackie Gemelos, is returning late season from a 4 year hiatus. Unlike UCLA, USC is missing 3 key players due to ACL injuries.

    Give me a break. UCLA should have beaten USC by 20 points every time they played given USC's limited roster.

    UCLA has not beaten a ranked team this season and it remains to be seen just how far they go in the NCAA this year. For USC to finish third in the PAC 10 is a major accomplishment given their limited roster and injuries associated therewith.

    I predict both USC and UCLA go out the second round.

  3. Anonymous posted the other day:

    ""USC capitalized on a few key Oregon turnovers to narrowly beat them, 80-76 last night. It was disappointing, but it was a good game."

    I heard about your anti USC bias but I gave you the benefit of the doubt. USC won the Oregon game and I fail to see the disappoinment unless as stated, you are a UCLA die hard fan. The fact that USC won should be celebrated by anyone promoting Southern California women's basketball. Moreover, the fact that USC was able to win 3rd place in the PAC 10 fielding just 7players is truly amazing.

    You may want to check your history with regards to WBB. UCLA can't hold a candle to USC's past accomplishemnts.

    I am looking forward to next year when USC finally fields a 13 member roster that will include 5 McDonald High School All-Americans and finally challenges Stanford for the PAC 10 championship."

    You are probably a new reader, but you can check the profile: I'm an Oregon alumni, and I've been a Tennessee fan for 26 years. You should be able to see why I'd want Oregon to beat USC and why I'd be a UCLA fan.

    I wouldn't necessarily say I promote Southern California basketball as much as report on what happens where I live.

    I have said in this blog previously this season that USC should be given props for winning as much as they did with the small roster they had. But that doesn't mean I have to like them.

    I'm not sure of the relevance of your "check the history" comment. Is the fact that USC has a rich tradition in women's basketball another reason why I'm supposed to like them?

    We all like who we like. You're free to disagree with me, but don't tell me what teams or players I should like.

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