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PAC-10 WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Coach Nikki Caldwell hoping UCLA can keep her streak alive

The first-year Bruins coach has been to 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments as a player or a coach.

March 13, 2009|Gary Klein

In each of her 14 previous seasons as a college player and coach, Nikki Caldwell participated in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

The former Tennessee guard played in the tournament four times and coached 10 times as an assistant at Virginia and her alma mater.

But now in her first season as UCLA's head coach, she's facing long odds to keep that streak alive. Her Bruins must win the Pacific 10 Conference tournament to advance to the 64-team NCAA party.

Seeded fourth, UCLA (18-11) begins Pac-10 tournament play tonight against fifth-seeded Oregon State (19-10) at 7:15, at the Galen Center. Second-ranked Stanford (26-4), ninth-ranked California (24-5) and 18th-ranked Arizona State (23-7) are virtually assured of NCAA tournament berths and regarded as the teams to beat in the conference tournament, which began Thursday and runs through Sunday.

"I've been blessed and fortunate to be involved with programs that have been successful so I don't understand not having your name filled in a [NCAA tournament bracket] slot on Monday," Caldwell said. "We're a program headed in the right direction. . . . This team is capable. There's nothing like playing with the attitude that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Today's game is a rematch of the Bruins' regular-season finale, a 61-58 defeat at Corvallis. Had UCLA won that game, it might have needed only two victories in the Pac-10 tournament to earn its first NCAA berth since 2006.

Instead, sophomore guard Doreena Campbell (13.3 points a game) and the Bruins must win three games in three days to win the tournament and advance.

USC, also seeking its first NCAA berth in three years, is in the same situation.

The sixth-seeded Trojans (15-14) open against Arizona State today at 11 a.m. Both teams lost key players in the final weekend of the season because of knee injuries. USC will be without center Nadia Parker and Arizona State without point guard Dymond Simon.

Senior guard Camille LeNoir (averaging 12.7 points) will try to lead USC to its first victory over the Sun Devils in eight games. If the Trojans win, they probably will play Cal in a semifinal.

"You've got to believe that anything can happen," USC Coach Mark Trakh said of the Trojans' chances of winning the tournament. "It's not going to be easy."

Thursday's games

Sami Whitcomb scored 28 points to help Washington rout Oregon, 69-43, in a first-round game. Whitcomb made six three-pointers for the Huskies (8-21). Ellie Manou led Oregon (9-21) with 15 points.

Arizona (12-18) advanced with a 79-72 victory over Washington State (11-19).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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