minneapolis — — UCLA women's basketball Coach Nikki Caldwell had a simple query for her team with just less than four minutes to play in the first half of the Bruins NCAA tournament opener.
"I asked them a question, ‘Why aren't you in the mood to trap?' " Caldwell said.
That message was clearly received. A Bruins team that had trailed by nine at that point found a way to get comfortable and turned their first-round NCAA tournament game into little more than a layup line. The result was a routine 74-54 victory over ninth-seeded North Carolina State.
With the victory, eighth-seeded UCLA (25-8) advances to Tuesday's second round of the Kansas City Regional and will face top-seeded Nebraska, an 83-44 winner over Northern Iowa in the first game on the University of Minnesota campus.
The amazing thing considering the final margin was that with three minutes to play in the first half a Bruins team that is ranked No. 22 nationally, was in significant trouble. UCLA was sloppy with the ball, appeared anxious and allowed the Wolfpack to get open looks at the basket.
When N.C. State's Marissa Kastanek scored on an inbounds play with 3:15 to play in the first half, UCLA trailed, 25-16. At that point, the Bruins realized that maybe they did want to press and trap. Over the final 2:20 of the half, the Bruins forced four turnovers, went on a 10-0 run and secured a 26-25 halftime lead.
"It rattles them, it makes them play fast," said Erica Tukiainen, who finished with 12 points. "And that's what we want. We want them to panic while we maintain our composure."
The success at the end of the half was exactly what the Bruins needed.
"Sometimes I wonder if they ever listen to us," Caldwell said. "They're like a bad kid, except you can't spank them. But they started to reap rewards. Going into the second half, they were talking about what they needed to do before we even got in [the locker room at halftime]. They just carried it with them, and that was very important."
UCLA opened the second half on a 12-6 run — meaning the Bruins went on a combined 22-6 spurt spanning both halves — and led, 38-31, when Jasmine Dixon (game-high 17 points, 11 rebounds) scored in the paint with 16:18 to play. On the other end of the floor, the Wolfpack managed only three field goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
With the defense rolling — UCLA forced 13 turnovers in the game's final 23 minutes — the Bruins got layup after layup. Nine of UCLA's second-half field goals came from next to the basket, and the Bruins shot 61.5% after the break. UCLA, which also got 13 points from Rebekah Gardner and 11 from Doreena Campbell, outscored N.C. State, 58-29, over the final 23-plus minutes.
"It came to us after a while," Dixon said. "We just kept playing our game."