UCLA loves to win by the skin of its teeth. That’s how the Bruins advanced to face fourth-seeded Arizona women’s basketball in the Pac-12 quarterfinals on Thursday. Cori Close’s fifth-seeded team needed overtime to get by 12th-seeded Arizona State, which won one Pac-12 game all season.
“Wasn’t that nice of us to make a really exciting game for the media, to start off the tournament this way?” the UCLA head coach said. “We’re all about the selflessness, taking one for the team.”
It’s been an issue for UCLA all season in both wins and losses, against good teams and less-than-good teams. The Bruins pushed South Carolina, the Associated Press’ No. 1 team all year, at the beginning of the season. They did that on the road.
The first weekend of Pac-12 play, they lost to Oregon State in Corvallis 77-72. The Beavers would go on to win a total of four conference games—two of them against the teams set to play to advance to the conference semifinals to face the winner of the Stanford-Oregon game.
Those two teams met just once this season and it was on the Bruins’ home turf. Arizona went to Pauley Pavilion desperately needing a win to maintain hopes of getting a first-round bye in the conference tournament. It did just that.
In fact, the Wildcats swept UCLA and USC on the road for the first time in 21 years. That’s the reason Arizona got to rest on Wednesday while UCLA was battling the Sun Devils in overtime of the opening round. It’s the reason No. 6 seed USC was playing No. 11 seed Oregon State until 10:30 p.m. PT—and being blown out in the fourth quarter to lose a low-scoring 56-48 affair.
The Bruins have great players. All-Pac-12 guard Charisma Osborne was critical in overtime against the Sun Devils. They have two Pac-12 All-Freshman players guards in Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones. They have had difficulty beating top teams, though.
UCLA went 0-5 against the teams in the top four of the conference and had one of the easiest schedules in the league. They only had to play Utah, Colorado, and Arizona once each, and the Arizona game was at home. Stanford was the only one of the top four seeds the Bruins played twice.
As for how Arizona got here, like UCLA, they dropped games to Washington State and Oregon State. The Wildcats had to play the other three teams at the top of the league twice each. They went 2-4 against third-seeded Colorado and co-champions Stanford and Utah. Only the Cardinal defeated them all three times.
In most of the games that Arizona lost this season, the other team had one or more dominant frontcourt players. With both of the Wildcats’ starting posts being undersized and only having three true posts on the team, it’s difficult for Arizona to match up with the bigs of other teams.
Esmery Martinez and Cate Reese regularly gave up several inches to the players they were guarding in the conference, especially on the top teams. That often leads to foul trouble, especially for Martinez.
Against the Bruins, Arizona doesn’t face a frontcourt-oriented team. UCLA is very much a guard-dominated team. Only two players average double figures—Osborne and Rice.
The first game between the squads was a close one. Arizona had to come back, but it’s much easier to come back against a team that doesn’t dominate in the one area where the Wildcats lack depth and size.
Can the Wildcats prove that their Los Angeles sweep was not a fluke? It’s time to find out.
No. 5 UCLA Bruins (23-8, 11-7 Pac-12) vs No. 4 Arizona Wildcats (21-8, 11-7 Pac-12)
When: Thursday, Mar. 2 at 1 p.m. MST
Where: Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev.
TV: Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Arizona and Pac-12 Los Angeles
Streaming: Streaming is available via the Pac-12 Now app or online. Both options require a subscription via a TV provider. Streaming is also available with a subscription to a TV package that includes the Pac-12 Network via Sling, Fubo, or Vidgo.
Radio: Listen to the call by Derrick Palmer online on The Varsity Network or on the radio at KTUC 1400 AM.
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Arizona tied with North Carolina State and Iowa State for the 14th-best odds to win the national title at +7500. There was no line for the Arizona-UCLA game as of 12 hours before tip-off.
How to follow along: Follow us on Twitter @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live tweets of women’s basketball and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.