A relentless defense and massive lineup helped the UCLA Bruins shake off a pesky Lady Griz basketball team 55-47 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at McCarthey Athletic Center.
The third-seeded Bruins overwhelmed No. 14 Montana with defensive pressure to take the ball out of the Lady Griz shooters' hands and slow the pace of the game to a crawl at times. UCLA, which leads the Pac-10 Conference in turnovers forced and steals, was at its best on Saturday. The team swiped balls from shooters and forced precarious passes on the way to causing 25 Grizzly turnovers.
"You feel like you're just falling apart but they do that every game," said Montana head coach Robin Selvig.
Along with taking the ball away repeatedly, the persistent D kept Montana (18–15 in the Big Sky) from setting up its offense. A full-court press often left the Grizzlies with half a shot clock or less to work with once they arrived in the offensive zone.
"I know fans were yelling at us to go fast," he said. "First of all, I don't have a lot of players who go that fast and second, if you go too fast, you get a lot of those turnovers anyway."
The Bruins' (28–4 in the Pac-10) trap defense did its job, holding the Griz to 17 points in the first half. Montana responded better to the pressure after intermission, matching its first-half output with more than seven minutes left in the game. But while Montana's offense was warming up, UCLA's was holding strong.
UCLA never trailed after the 11-minute mark of the first half but Montana refused to turn in early. The Grizzlies made things interesting, trailing by as few as four points with just over a minute to play. Free throws down the stretch helped UCLA pull away and guarantee itself a trip to the second round of the tournament.
"Their will, their resilience and spirit is something I'll take away from this game," said UCLA head coach Nikki Caldwell of Montana's late push. "I think you can always learn something from opponents."
The game almost got away from the Bruins, said senior Doreena Campbell, and that's what they should be learning from.
"Today, I think we just played well enough to win," Campbell said. "We're going to have to change that for (the next round)."
Turnovers doomed Montana but were present for both teams in the game. In fact, it was UCLA's own 19 TOs that almost brought the Lady Griz back to life, Selvig said.
"It wasn't like the other team was getting stuff easy either," he said.
But baskets did come easier for the Bruins, who shot 42.5 percent from the floor behind 15 points from junior Jasmine Dixon and 11 points from Campbell. Montana shot a full 10 percent worse from the field against a UCLA team that allowed just 54 points on average. The low shooting percentage was a result of UCLA's presence under the hoop where they played five women over 6-feet in height.
"It was hard for us to get the ball inside because they were so tall and long," said sophomore Alyssa Smith, the Lady Grizzlies' leading scorer with 14 points — a career high. Smith collected 12 of her points on four made 3-point shots.
"They're a lot more athletic than a lot of the teams we've played this year," sophomore Kenzie DeBoer agreed.
Senior Sarah Ena added nine points for Montana in her final collegiate game. In the face of UCLA's suffocating defense, DeBoer, who runs the offense as the main Lady Griz guard, netted just one basket from the field and turned the ball over 10 times.
With the win, UCLA moves on to face No. 11 Gonzaga, which upset the sixth-seeded Iowa earlier in the day. The teams will meet on Monday in Spokane at 7:30 p.m.