UCLA advances to Pac-12 semifinals with 67-57 win over Utah

Pac-12 Conference
UCLA advances to the Pac-12 semifinals for a date with archrival USC in a Las Vegas edition of the Battle of Los Angeles.

LAS VEGAS — After beating the Utes by 30 just two weeks ago, UCLA had a much tougher time putting Utah to bed in the Pac-12 quarterfinals at MGM Grand on Thursday night.

The Bruins won 67-57 in a high-energy battle between the two ranked teams that resembled their first meeting in January that went to double-overtime far more than the drubbing that UCLA delivered just two weeks ago.

“Utah made some great adjustments from our game two weeks ago. Give them credit,” said UCLA coach Cori Close. “They really took advantage of some of our switches in the first half. And then when we stopped switching, they found some 3-point shooters in the second. They’re a really good team.”

It was a consistent effort from UCLA, who won each individual quarter and didn’t relinquish the lead after the midway point in the first, but Utah was in their hair the entire way. The Utes kept the game within five until midway through the third quarter when the Bruins found just a little bit of separation. Albeit, not enough to really breathe and feel comfortable.

“They make things hard, but I’m incredibly proud of my team,” said Utah coach Lynne Roberts.

“They hit kind of end-of-shot-clock daggers. We missed those. We left some points on the table, free throws and missed some layups particularly in the first half. But against that pressure and the physicality, I’ll emphasize that, to only have eight turnovers, it’s pretty impressive. That eliminates their ability to get out and run.”

Despite just 8 points from star center Lauren Betts, UCLA found contributions from program backbone Charisma Osborne and senior forward Angela Dugalic. Dugalic led all scorers with 17 points for the Bruins while Osborne was just behind her with 16 on 50% shooting despite going 0-6 from the field.

It was a full-circle moment for Dugalic, who missed all of last season for the Bruins and now sees herself as a key cog in a potential national championship run.

“I remember when we had early games and we had shoot-arounds at, like, 7:45, Angela’s like, ‘Will you meet me at 6:30 for some extra form shooting?’, Close said. “I think what you saw tonight is a manifestation of all the work in the dark (coming to light).

Alyssa Pili, last year’s Pac-12 player of the year, led the Utes with 16 points in what will likely be her final conference tournament game as a senior. She was also the main catalyst in stopping Betts for Utah, but it just wasn’t enough to lead the Utes into the semifinals.

Betts is a challenge. You have to game plan for her. I thought our game plan was effective. We held her to only eight points, but so much of that has so much to do with Alissa’s determination,” Roberts said. “The game plan was for Alissa to just hold her ground, basically. And we use the term Sumo, like a sumo wrestler, low man wins, and just push her so that (Betts) catches it as far out as possible.”

With the win, UCLA earned a berth in the Pac-12 semifinals where they will meet archrival UCLA in a Las Vegas edition of the Battle of Los Angeles. Tip-off is set for some time around 7:30 p.m., after the Stanford vs Oregon State game at 5.