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SPORTS EXTRA / SELECTION-DAY REPORT / NCAA TOURNAMENT

UCLA No Stranger to First Opponent

Women's basketball: George Washington will be a known quantity for Bruins, who are seeded 10th in the Mideast Regional.

March 13, 2000|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

George Washington, the team UCLA drew for its first-round NCAA tournament game, is a blend of international and Orange County players that stitched together win streaks of 12, six and five games this season.

The Colonials (25-5) also have a history of beating UCLA (18-10).

The teams last met in 1997 at Pauley Pavilion, with George Washington winning, 78-73.

UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier, whose team is coming off a sweep in Washington last week, sounded upbeat after Sunday's pairings were announced.

"We played very well in Washington," said Olivier, who before the week said she believed the Bruins needed the sweep to assure themselves of an NCAA bid.

"We just seemed to be clicking offensively and everyone had a lot of positive energy. Maybe it was a case of six seniors with their backs against the wall, knowing that they hadn't yet played up to their expectations."

Out of UCLA's two victories emerged a three-point shooter they have needed all season.

Freshman Nicole Kaczmarski was given a tough assignment early in the season when she was asked to lead a senior-dominated team from the point-guard position because of an injury to veteran Erica Gomez. Kaczmarski did it with mixed success but moved to the two-guard spot after seven games, when Gomez returned. At shooting guard, Kaczmarski's three-point shooting was 28% before she seemed to have found more range this past week.

Against Washington State on Thursday, she made seven of eight three-point shots, then made three of four Saturday against Washington.

"We've known all along she's capable of that kind of shooting," Olivier said. "But everyone was shooting like that, it seemed. We shot 70% in the first half at Washington State."

Now, the coach wonders if a significant measure of confidence has returned to her shellshocked team, one that began the season ranked No. 4 and Sunday was handed the 10th seeding in the Mideast Regional. Punishment, one might call it, for those late losses to USC, Oregon State and California.

"I think we're more confident of ourselves now," she said.

"I want them to play with that confidence back there and also have a lot of fun."

George Washington is led by two Europeans, 5-foot-8 Spaniard Elisa Aguilar, who leads the team in scoring with 14.3 points a game and 6-3 Slovakian Petra Dubovcova, who averages 13.9. There are four Europeans on the team.

Two Orange County freshmen see major minutes, 5-11 Cathy Joens of Irvine and 5-9 Lindsey Davidson of Brea.

George Washington, ranked 23rd and seeded seventh in the regional, was 14-2 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. It won the regular-season title, but lost to Xavier, 80-66, in the conference tournament title game.

A common opponent is Rutgers. The Colonials beat Rutgers, 63-58, in December. The Scarlet Knights routed UCLA two weeks later, 72-48.

But statistics were not the main thing for UCLA's all-Pac-10 forward, Maylana Martin.

"I'm just glad to be in it and I'm looking forward to try and redeem ourselves," she said, reflecting on the Bruins losing six of 10 conference games and falling out of the national rankings.

"We had really high expectations and we didn't fulfill them. We had some really bad games."

Last year, the Bruins reached the West Regional final before losing to Louisiana Tech 88-62 at the Sports Arena. They were able to stay in town for all four tournament games.

"It almost feels more like the tournament when you're on the road," Martin said. "The selection committee gave us an opportunity, and this is the time for us to show what we're all about."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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