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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL / GREENSBORO REGIONAL

Riverside can't quite hang on

March 18, 2007|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

In its inaugural trip to the NCAA women's basketball tournament a year ago, UC Riverside shrunk in the spotlight, overwhelmed by the experience, and was blown out by top-seeded North Carolina in the first round.

The Highlanders looked much more comfortable and showed a lot more competitiveness in their return Saturday night, but the result was no less disappointing.

The 14th-seeded Big West Conference champions scored only six points over the last 13 1/2 minutes, blew a 15-point lead and squandered an opportunity for a historic victory, losing to third-seeded Arizona State, 57-50, in the Galen Center.

Arizona State (29-4) will play sixth-seeded Louisville (27-7) in a second-round Greensboro Regional game Monday night in the Galen Center.

"I don't know if you can find good things in losing," said UCR Coach John Margaritis, whose team ended the season with a 21-11 record, "but I think this is the next step in our program. We were playing a team that is excellent ... and after we quit crying, we talked about how we need to use this to improve."

Since the NCAA tournament field was expanded to 64 teams in 1994, only one team seeded 14th or lower -- 16th-seeded Harvard over top-seeded and injury-depleted Stanford in 1998 -- has won an opening-round game.

But UC Riverside, building on a seven-point halftime advantage and repeatedly penetrating the Arizona State defense for layups, led the Pacific 10 Conference runner-up, 44-29, with a little more than 13 minutes to play.

Arizona State, though, ended the game with a 28-6 run.

A 20-4 blitz, capped by Briann January's three-point play with 3:08 remaining, gave the Sun Devils a 49-48 lead. Then, after UCR regained the lead briefly, Arizona State scored the game's final eight points.

"W-H-E-W, whew!" Arizona State Coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "I'm just really proud of our team's resiliency. To shoot 35% and win a game in the NCAA tournament, that was just grit, just absolute grit."

January led the Sun Devils with 15 points, Aubree Johnson had 11 points and 10 rebounds and reserve Danielle Orsillo scored 13 points.

Kemie Nkele, the Big West player of the year, led Riverside with 16 points but fouled out with 4:13 to play and the Highlanders still leading, 48-46.

Louisville 80, Brigham Young 54 -- Big East player of the year Angel McCoughtry scored 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds to lead the Cardinals' rout of the 11th-seeded Mountain West Conference champions.

"I thought Angel was pretty patient," Louisville Coach Tom Collen said of his sophomore star, who made eight of 15 shots. "They jumped in some junk defenses on her and denied her all over the floor, but I thought she did a good job of just being blue collar and getting some offensive rebounds.

"She obviously rose up and stuck some shots as well."

Jazz Covington had 14 points and seven rebounds for Louisville, which built a 44-23 halftime lead and was not seriously challenged in the second half.

Dani Wright led BYU (23-10) with 12 points and seven rebounds.

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jerry.crowe@latimes.com

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