No. 3 UCLA crushed No. 14 AU’s hopes of playing in the NCAA Tournament’s second round Saturday afternoon. The Bruins defeated the Eagles 71-60 in Los Angeles, ending AU’s historic season.
“Anytime you play on the big stage, you don’t know how your team is going to respond,” head coach Megan Gebbia said. “Yes, our seniors have been here once, but they didn’t play a ton last time. So, for them to come in and compete like they did today, for our junior class to show up with never having gone through something like this, I’m extremely proud of them, and we hope to be back in this situation again in the future.”
Despite their earlier 9-5 lead, the Eagles (26-7) fell behind by double-digits after a 22-3 run by UCLA closed the first quarter. The Eagles chipped away at the Bruins (25-7) lead and drew as close as 4 after senor guard Maria Liddane converted a layup with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter.
“[UCLA has] two all-stars on their team, but everyone else really stepped up” Liddane said. “You try your best between the top two players and the other top two guards and the rest of their team. Not like we didn’t know how to play them, but it was really challenging.”
However, turnovers and strong play from UCLA center Monique Billings prevented any further Eagle comeback. Billings finished the game with 20 points and 10 rebounds and the Bruins forced 15 AU turnovers. The Bruins’ full-court pressure keyed their first quarter scoring run. Their defensive pressure frustrated the Eagles for the rest of the game. AU’s senior point guard Maria Liddane committed 8 turnovers and Patriot League Player of the Year Emily Kinneston committed 4 turnovers as a result of the Bruins’ pressure.
Kinneston struggled offensively throughout the game and finished with 2 points on 1-10 shooting from the floor. Kinneston was shadowed by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordin Canada for most of the game, rendering her unable to influence the game as she has all season.
“I’m just proud that we boxed out on pretty much every possession, and I don’t think that’s really ever happened for us this season,” junior forward Cecily Carl said. “It was really good for us.”
Carl led the Eagles offensively, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the season. Junior guard Elina Koskimies finished with 13 points and Liddane added 12 points in her final game for the Eagles.
Koskimies and Carl each made two three-pointers during the third quarter to help the Eagles rally from their 13-point halftime deficit.
“[American is] a confident group,” UCLA’s head coach Cori Close said. “They know what their identity is as a team, and they play consistently to that identity. Whenever a coaching staff can get a group of young women to share the ball like they do and play with such versatility on a consistent basis, they deserve a lot of credit. … I told Coach [Gebbia} before the game, ‘You have my total respect.’ … American should be proud of their women’s basketball team.”
This story has been updated.