Womens Basketball: American vs UCLA - D1SportsNet


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Womens basketball

American vs UCLA

A hard-fought, 65-62 loss to Oregon in a Pac-12 Conference Tournament semifinal on March 3 set a clear goal for UCLA ahead of the NCAA Tournament, which begins for the Bruins at home in Pauley Pavilion Saturday vs. American.

"That's an Elite Eight level game," UCLA head coach Cori Close said in her postgame press conference. "We want to be playing deep into March."

To make a run deep into the NCAA Tournament, No. 3 seed UCLA (24-7) must first advance past the No. 14-seeded Patriot League champion American.

The upset-minded Eagles (26-6) continue on the most successful season in program history, which reached a crescendo March 11 in the Patriot League title game. American's 58-49 win over Navy sealed just the second NCAA Tournament ever for the Eagles.

"I'm speechless. It feels amazing right now," forward Cecily Carl said in a postgame interview for aueagles.com. "This is literally a dream come true for me. Hearing so much about the 2015 championship and wanting to get back (to the NCAA Tournament) for our senior class, it means a lot."

The senior on this American team were present for the first Eagles' trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Among them is guard Emily Kinneston, whose 10 points in the last 10 minutes of the Patriot League championship helped key American's second-half rally.

Kinneston started for the Eagles in their 2015 Tournament matchup with Iowa but played just six minutes in a 75-67 loss. She will be central to the Eagles' upset bid this time around, coming in leading American in both scoring at 15.8 points per game, and assists at 4.3 points per game.

The matchup of Kinneston and UCLA guard Jordin Canada could shape Saturday's contest. Like Kinneston, Canada leads her team in both scoring (16.8 points per game) and assists (6.9 per game), while also producing 3.2 steals per game.

Canada establishes tone for a Bruins offense that thrives on ball movement and tempo. UCLA ranks No. 32 nationally in assists, setting the table for the No. 40-most prolific scoring offense.

UCLA is also an excellent rebounding team, boasting a plus-7 margin per game margin on the glass. A smaller American lineup must find ways to keep 6-foot-4 Monique Billings (9.7 rebounds per game) and 6-foot-1 Lajahna Drummer (7.0 rebounds per game) off the boards.

"It's all about matchups," American coach Megan Gebbia said in the press conference following the Patriot League championship. "I don't put anything past this team, that's for sure. They'll be ready."

The holdovers from American's previous NCAA Tournament trip experienced a single-digit final point margin. If 2018 promises a redux, UCLA should be comfortable.

Each of the Bruins' final seven games were decided by eight points or fewer, including three overtime games, three ended within a final possession.

"We have to go back to the drawing board, every single one of us, and we have to learn how can we improve," Billings said in the postgame press conference following the loss to Oregon. "How can we get better so these games aren't so close? Just being able to lock into a game plan along the stretch in the game and being able to finish out the game."