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UCLA women reach Pac-10 final, but Stanford is waiting

Bruins easily defeat California, 63-50, to improve to 27-3, but now must again face the top-seeded Cardinal, which handed them two one-sided losses during the regular season and is considered a strong Final Four contender.

March 11, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • UCLA's Atonye Nyingifa grabs a rebound in front of California's Talia Caldwell during the first half of the Bruins' 63-50 Pac-10 tournament quarterfinal victory Friday at the Galen Center.
UCLA's Atonye Nyingifa grabs a rebound in front of California's… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S.…)

UCLA got exactly what it wanted:

Another shot at Stanford.

The question going into Saturday's championship game of the Pacific Life Pac-10 women's basketball tournament is how much good that will do the Bruins.

UCLA looked the part of a rested, second-seeded team when it cruised past California, 63-50, on Friday at Staples Center.

But that paled compared to top-seeded Stanford's earlier 100-71 dismantling of Arizona.

So now the Bruins, already bound for the NCAA tournament, get their third chance this season to measure themselves against one of the top programs in the nation.

UCLA is 27-3, but two of the losses came against the Cardinal.

Neither was close.

Asked to assess what Stanford does well, UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell did not hesitate.

"It's not what they do," she said. "It's, what don't they do?"

Sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike did pretty much anything they wanted against Arizona as the Cardinal (28-2) set a tournament record for points in a game and extended its win streak against Pac-10 teams to 56 games.

Nnemkadi, a 6-foot-2 junior, scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Chiney, a 6-3 freshman, had 21 points and 13 rebounds.

"We have an invisible extension between us," Nnemkadi said.

"Sometimes, it's just natural for a sister to look for a sister." Chiney said. "I usually know where she is. I know where she's thinking about going. And sometimes that really makes it easy."

Senior forward Kayla Pedersen scored 16 points for a team that made 59% of its shots and cruised on a day when senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, the Pac-10 player of the year, scored only five points.

"We're doing a really good job of accentuating our assets and just really working hard as a team and collaborating," Nnemkadi said.

When UCLA lost to Stanford in February at Pauley Pavilion, 67-53, Nnemkadi was sidelined because of an ankle sprain. She will be on the court Saturday, seemingly at the top of her game.

"I didn't get a crack at them the last time," she said of the Bruins. "I love playing against people that give us a challenge."

Is UCLA up for it?

The Bruins' high-pressure defense was effective against Cal; UCLA scored nearly half of its points off turnovers.

Guards Atonye Nyingifa (17 points), Darxia Morris (14) and Doreena Campbell (12) led the Bruins, who are trying to win the Pac-10 tournament for the first time since 2006.

UCLA will need more production from forward Jasmine Dixon against Stanford, which has far greater size and more experience than the Bruins. Dixon scored four points and had seven rebounds against Cal.

Caldwell said that "every possession matters" against Stanford, which ended Connecticut's 90-game winning streak in December and is making a bid for another Final Four appearance.

Morris said there was "just no room for mistakes" against a Cardinal team that has scored 100 points three times this season.

That's no secret to Caldwell.

"We're going to have to really, really focus in on being stronger and being much tougher than what we've been," she said. "We have to do things at a . . . higher level than what we've done.

"We're capable of doing it. It's just a matter of are we going to sustain it for 40" minutes?

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