UCLA overpowers Hawaii in first round meeting

Kennedy Burke takes flight for UCLA. Photo by Nicc Jackson.
Kennedy Burke takes flight for UCLA. Photo by Nicc Jackson.

Los Angeles – No. 10 UCLA used stifling defense to curtail a resilient Hawaii Rainbow Wahine team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday, 66-50.

Nirra Fields lead the Bruins, seeded third in the Bridgeport regional, with 16 points and 8 rebounds, and freshman Kennedy Burke added 15. UCLA held No. 14 Hawaii to a season low 20 percent shooting to advance to their first trip to the second round of the Tournament since 2011.

Megan Huff was the high-scorer for the Wahine, with 18 points.

UCLA got off to a slow start, and didn’t pick up the pace until the second quarter. Though Hawaii was clearly outmatched, they never gave up their offensive attacks on their hosts, and they forced the Bruins to step up their defense.

Fields scored 7 of her points in the third period, and Burke went off for eight points in the fourth. UCLA held Hawaii scoreless for almost four minutes in the last period, and inflated their lead to 22 points by the 5:39 mark. The visitors could never close the gap.

Bruins coach Cori Close characterized the game as ugly, and said her team had a hard time getting into rhythm. But she liked the way players stepped up.

“What I do like is that when you have bad shooting nights and you don’t have rhythm, you find ways to win,” Close said. “And I think in the NCAA Tournament, it’s just really important when things aren’t pretty or things aren’t comfortable, you find other ways just to get the job done and we were able to do that, so I’m proud of my team.”

UCLA blocks Hawaii's Destiny King. Photo by Benita West/T.G.Sportstv1
UCLA blocks Hawaii’s Destiny King. Photo by Benita West/T.G.Sportstv1

Close’s biggest concern of the game was player disposition.

“I thought when things got tough a little bit today, we weren’t as enthusiastic as we normally are,” she said. “Just that team spirit has been a really wonderful characteristic of this team all year long and I really challenged them, that no matter the circumstance, they have to keep that.”

Hawaii coach Laura Beeman, who guided her team to its first Tournament appearance since 1994 in her fourth year, said it was hard to compete with a team that was bigger and stronger.

“They’re long, they’re quick…..they’re great athletes,” Beeman said. “They cover ground very very quickly. Not only with their speed but just their length and their arms. I thought we adjusted pretty well. But they make you play fast. They hit those gaps very very quickly, they close out very very quickly. They are just a very athletic, disciplined team.”

The Wahine had a large contingent at Pauley Pavilion for the game, and that included family and friends of senior guard Destiny King, a Long Beach native who was a star guard at Long Beach Poly High School. She was emotional after the game, and said making the Tournament in her last year was significant for the entire Hawaii community. She said it was also good to end her college career at home.

Monique Billings takes flight in the first half. Photo by Benita West/T.G.Sportstv1
Monique Billings elevates for 2 in the first half. Photo by Benita West/T.G.Sportstv1

“It means a lot,” she said. “My family got to watch me play in person and not just on TV. As you see, we had a lot of fans today. It wasn’t just family, it was friends, it was alumni that came out. They supported us all season, throughout my four years here. This was a dream for me since high school. To be here was spectacular and to be in front of my family was amazing.”

UCLA faces South Florida, who beat Colorado State in the night’s other first round match up, Monday at 6 p.m.