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WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT

UCLA Gets Michigan in Midwest Regional

Women's basketball: Tennessee avoided, but a win over Wolverines could mean second-round game against Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Ala.

March 09, 1998|GREG SANDOVAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying they were ecstatic just to be among the 64 teams to make the NCAA tournament, UCLA's women's basketball players could not hide their relief at not playing in Knoxville, Tenn.

"We were glad we weren't in the same bracket as Tennessee," said sophomore Erica Gomez about the No.1-ranked Volunteers. "We didn't really care who we got as long as long it wasn't them."

In its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1992, seventh-seeded UCLA will take on 10th-seeded Michigan in the first round of the Midwest Regional at Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Friday at 4 p.m.

Second-seeded Alabama (22-9) will play 15th-seeded North Carolina at Greensboro (22-8) in the bracket's other game.

Should UCLA and Alabama win, the Bruins would play Alabama.

"Once we get going, we get going like a train," said UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier, in her fifth year as coach. "This team has not minded playing on the road or in front of big crowds. If we do play Alabama, I don't think playing them on their home court will hurt us."

Watching the televised announcement of the tournament field, the Bruins screamed and yelled when they heard UCLA's name called. They barely paid attention to their opponent, with several players wondering out loud what the weather is like in Tuscaloosa.

UCLA has never played Michigan, and the Bruins know little about their first-round opponent.

"We know they lost to Duke and we beat Duke," said forward Maylana Martin, the Pacific 10's second-leading scorer. "It's hard to a judge a team that way because teams can improve after losses, but knowing about [Michigan's loss to] Duke gave us a little bit of a lift."

Michigan (19-9) has only one tournament appearance, losing in the second round in 1990.

This season, led by second-year Coach Sue Guevara, the Big Ten's coach of the year, the Wolverines finished in a three-way tie for third place in the conference and lost to Penn State in the semifinals of its tournament last week.

Michigan is led by 6-foot-3 center Pollyana Johns, an all-Big Ten player who led the conference in rebounds (9.6) and shooting percentage (62%).

Sophomore guard Stacey Thomas, last season's Big Ten freshman of the year, is a crafty defender who led the conference in steals at 3.1 per game.

After a start in which the Bruins (19-8) lost their first three games, UCLA, with four sophomores starting, has matured.

When asked if her young team isn't a year or two away from being a contender, Olivier said, "I don't want to talk about the future. We've been doing that for the last couple of years. I'm only interested in what this team does now this year."

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