Experienced Bruins hold off red-hot American, 71-60

Monique Billings lays it up and in. Photo by Arionne Thomas.
Monique Billings lays it up and in. Photo by Arionne Thomas.

Los Angeles – If it were another team, Patriot League champions American would have had their way.

They out-rebounded UCLA by three, outscored them in the second and third quarters and saw three players in double figures with solid, fundamental basketball and tight offensive sets. But NCAA Tournament experience won out in the end, as the Bruins executed down the stretch and closed out the Eagles, 71-60, to earn a trip to the second round of the bracket.

Monique Billings had 20 points and 10 rebounds and Jordin Canada, 10 points and 11 assists for UCLA, while Kennedy Burke added 15. Cecily Carl scored 22 points and grabbed 10 boards for American, and Elina Koskimies and Maria Liddane each added 13 and 12, respectively.

Jordin Canada watches her shot fall. Photo by Arionne Thomas.
Jordin Canada watches her shot fall. Photo by Arionne Thomas.

The Bruins, who have advanced to the round of 16 for the last two years after hosting rounds one and two, shook off a slow start against the Eagles and roared out to a 27-12 lead at the end of the first quarter. Carl ignited a run in the third period, and American cut UCLA’s to 45-41 at the 4:32 mark. Burke, Kelli Hayes and Japreece Dean helped pace the Bruins back up to a nine-point advantage going into the last frame.

Led by their top scorers, the Eagles chipped UCLA’s lead to single-digits four times in the game’s closing minutes, but Canada free throws and strong defense paced the Bruin finish.

Canada said her team did not get rattled through American’s runs.

“We just had to stay poised, keep our composure, know that we’ve been through this lots of times in the preseason and the regular season,” she said. “So just being able to slow down and make sure were playing to our potential, playing aggressively on the defensive end, getting stops, that way we can get easier shots on the offensive end.”

Though the Bruins used full-court pressure defense to their advantage, they had lapses. And Burke said they know they have to prepare for second-round opponent Creighton Monday.

“I think one of the main concerns that we have to work on on the defensive end is communicating, because we had a lot of mental errors on defense,” Burke said. “That’s why we’re talking because whether it’s a drive or a kick out, we just have to communicate better.”

The Eagles were 26-6 going into the matchup. Coach Megan Gebbia said she was pleased at her team’s effort – especially considering their lack of Tournament experience.

Kelli Hayes prepares to drive to the basket. Photo by Arionne Thomas.
Kelli Hayes prepares to drive to the basket. Photo by Arionne Thomas.

“I think today, our kids came to play. I felt they were very prepared,” Gebbia said. “When I looked at the stat sheet and I saw that we actually out-rebounded them, that surprised me. That was probably my greatest concern going into this game because they’re such a good rebounding team, just in general.”

“But anytime you play on the big stage, you don’t know how your team is going to respond and yes, our seniors have been here once, but they didn’t play a ton last time. And so, for them to compete like they did today, for our junior class to show up with never having gone through something like this, I’m extremely proud of them and we hope to be back in this situation again in the future.”

Notes:

*Senior Monique Billings moved into the UCLA career Top 10 in points (1,717).

*Billings moved into sixth in Pac-12 Conference history in blocks (221).

*Billings recorded her team-leading 17th double-double of the season and 46th of her career.

*Billings’ 20 points were the sixth time she reached that total this season (18 career).

*Senior Jordin Canada notched her 115th double-figure scoring game and 21st career double-double (9th of the season).

*Canada is up to 101 steals on the season with three against American.