Los Angeles – There was only one question coming into Monday’s NCAA Tournament second round match up at Pauley Pavilion: would UCLA dominate Texas A&M, as they’d done to their opponents in the first round, or would the Aggies ride the momentum from their own comeback run two nights before?
The Bruins answered that question resoundingly by crushing the visiting team, 75-43 – their largest Tournament win in school history. Kari Korver led the way for UCLA with 21 points, on seven three-point shots. Jordin Canada had 12 points and 11 assists, and Monique Billings added 12. Kennedy Burke had a career-high nine assists.
Korver got the Bruins off to a quick start with two three-point shots in under two minutes. She and her teammates continued their offensive assault while playing stifling defense. They limited Texas A&M center Khaalia Hillsman, who had a career-high scoring night in the first round, to just 10 points. Aggie point guard Curtyce Knox, the Division I assists leader, dished only one by night’s end.
UCLA led 42-21 at halftime – ironic because the Aggies came back in the fourth quarter against Penn Saturday by just that margin to win. Against the Bruins, however, there was no comeback. UCLA visibly frustrated Texas A&M players, especially when they switched defenses, and had built a 35-point cushion in the fourth quarter before coach Cori Close inserted her bench players.
It is the second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 for the Bruins.
“I thought our defense was really solid,” Close said. “We wanted to take away the lobs, and I think they only had two of them to Hillsman. I really thought our defense took away what they do best; they wanted to find Hillman on the assist. That’s one of the reasons Knox has so many assists, on lobs to her, and I thought we took that away.”
“Monique was fearless and went right at her. When we went zone, we were able to double the low post and get out to shooters. We had a couple of lapses in our rebounding, but I thought overall it was really solid.”
For Korver, a redshirt senior, it was her last game at Pauley Pavilion. After her third three-point shot, she turned and yelled enthusiastically, which elicited a roar from the crowd. She said the game was more than memorable.
“I usually try not to show that much excitement, but I was pretty pumped up,” Korver said. “It’s cool to be able to play in the Sweet 16. It’s my last game in Pauley and I was just really excited. My teammates did a great job in finding me and we were a really unselfish team so it was fun.”
Aggie coach Gary Blair said the game was more about what UCLA did right than about what his team did wrong.
“That is what UCLA beat us on, was ball skills, basketball IQ and I think Cleveland might have the wrong damn Korver, because that (Kari) Korver’s pretty damn good,” Blair said in reference to Korver’s cousin Kyle, who plays in the NBA. “Give her a little bit of credit because her release—if I’m LeBron (James), I’m trying to get this one, too.”
Knox acknowledged the Bruins were the better team of the night.
“Well UCLA, they have a great point guard; they have a great shooter in Korver,” Knox said. “I just think that she shot the ball extremely well tonight and Canada got the ball to her open shooters and post players. They executed their offense very well and we just didn’t defend it.”
The Bruins head to the Bridgeport, Conn. regional where they will take on the undefeated Connecticut Huskies Saturday.