UCLA holds back UC Irvine in WNIT launch – Press Enterprise

LOS ANGELES — Natalie Chou scored a game-high 19 points and made five 3-pointers as the UCLA women’s basketball team defeated UC Irvine (61-48) in a first round of Friday night’s WNIT at Pauley Pavilion.

Chou, a senior, finished 6 for 9 from the field and went 5 for 7 from behind the arc. IImar’I Thomas (13 points, 12 rebounds) was the only other bruin to score in double digits. Leading scorer Charisma Osborne (16.4 ppg) remained scoreless in the first half but finished with six points on 3-for-12 shooting with six rebounds and four assists.

Trailing 18-14 early in the second quarter, UCLA (15-12) found their rhythm, and when a 3-pointer from Chou started a 14-0 run, the Bruins gave them a 28-18 lead.

UCI’s Kayla Williams hit a half-court buzzer-beater late in the third quarter to put the Anteaters (21-12) within six points, then added another early in the fourth to give UCLA the lead to decrease to 46-43. The Bruins pushed the lead back to seven points, but a 3-pointer from Naomi Hunt put UCI within 52-48 with 3:50 left before UCLA ended the game on a 9-0 run.

“We knew UC Irvine was a very good team,” said UCLA coach Cori Close. “Obviously this has been an up and down for our team this year. We’re really playing for our seniors and for the momentum that we can build for next year.”

Williams led UCI with 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Hunt added 11 points and Nikki Tom finished the tournament with nine points and four rebounds.

For the Anteaters, who finished runners-up in the Big West Conference during the regular season and then lost to first-seeded Hawaii in the Big West Tournament title game, it was another chance to buck a Pac-12 program with a proud postseason tradition to eat.

“The best thing we can take away from this is the fight we had,” said UCI coach Tamara Inoue. “We could have folded a few times when they went up 10, but we did a good job coming back. The last three minutes of that fourth quarter were back doors and they were pounding in and it just wasn’t going our way because shots were missing at the other end.

“For us, it’s about gaining experience and competing. I know we can compete and play with the best. I’m just really proud of our performance today. Cori (Close) is doing a great job and UCLA was a bubble team this year (for the NCAA tournament) so I thought it would be a great matchup for us to play a team like that and we bonded looking forward to it.”

The Bruins host the Air Force in a second-round game at 2:00 p.m. Sunday. The Falcons (19-13) defeated San Francisco 64-60 on Thursday.

“It really means a lot to us to be able to play at home,” Close said. “It will pay off as we advance in the tournament. Air Force is such a good defensive team. We have to be ready to play and play a lot better than today. We are happy that we have the chance to compete again.”

UCI shot 32.7% overall while UCLA shot 40.7% and had a 42-32 rebound advantage. The Anteaters had 18 turnovers while UCLA had 15.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *