No. 11 UCLA 66, Stetson 49

It’s difficult to find a star on the UCLA roster.

Or maybe the problem is that there are so many of them.

Nirra Fields led UCLA’s balanced offense with 13 points and the

Bruins had an 11-0 lead before rolling to a 66-49 win over Stetson

on Saturday in an NCAA first-round game.

Jasmine Dixon added 10 points and 10 rebounds and Atonye

Nyingifa had 10 points and eight rebounds for the spread-the-wealth

Bruins (26-7).

Six players average between 8 and 12 points for them.

”This is a team sport, so we play as a team,” Fields said of

the Bruins, who had nine players score and nine grab rebounds. ”We

do whatever we can to contribute and we really don’t care who gets

the credit. We just want to win games as a team.”

Nyingifa said having so many players who can do so many things

makes it that much harder on opposing teams.

”You don’t focus on one or two players, you have to focus on

all five of us on the court at the same time,” she said. ”We have

shooters, we have rebounders, we have inside play and we have

people who can attack the basket and give out assists. It’s like we

have it all.”

The Bruins (26-7) advance to the second round to meet

sixth-seeded Oklahoma (23-10), a 78-73 winner over Central Michigan

in Saturday’s first game. UCLA and the Sooners will play Monday

night at Ohio State’s St. John Arena, with that winner advancing to

the regional in Oklahoma City.

The second-round matchup won’t be the first meeting the year

between the teams. On Nov. 14, the Bruins traveled to Norman,

Okla., and beat the 11th-ranked Sooners 86-80 with Thea Lemberger

scoring 18 points and Oklahoma native Alyssia Brewer adding 15

points and 16 rebounds. The Bruins outrebounded the Sooners 57-33

in that game, matching their total with 33 offensive rebounds.

The Sooners have had the Bruins on their minds ever since,

saying after the first-round win they were cheering for a

rematch.

”We’re versatile, we’re athletic, we’re long – those are our

strengths,” coach Cori Close said. ”We were able to assert those

today. As you go onto the tournament, it’s which team, game by

game, can play to their strengths. That’s going to be a huge

challenge on Monday against Oklahoma.”

Victoria McGowan had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Stetson

(24-9), with Sasha Sims adding 13 points.

There wasn’t much doubt after the Bruins built the early lead.

Nyingifa scored five quick points in an 11-0 burst to start the

game while the Hatters were missing their first nine shots from the

field, including going 0 for 5 from behind the arc.

They didn’t get on the board until Cherisse Burris hit a layup

at the 14:44 mark.

”The first probably 10 minutes killed us,” Hatters coach Lynn

Bria said. ”Overall, the second half we played a lot better, a lot

tougher. The difference was field-goal percentage. We had some

shots but we didn’t put them in.”

Both McGowan and Shanasa Sanders said it wasn’t jitters at the

outset.

”It wasn’t nerves,” Sanders said. ”We weren’t hitting shots.

We kept taking them but we weren’t knocking them down.”

Substituting liberally, as she typically does, Close had eight

players score in the first nine minutes while the Bruins built a

23-7 lead.

They were on top 36-20 at the break, with Stetson struggling to

keep up. The Hatters hit just 9 of 34 shots (27 percent) in the

first 20 minutes, including 1 of 14 3-pointers.

Down as many as 24, the Hatters got as close as 15 points but

never really threatened.

As usual, the Bruins relied on their balance. At one point in

the waning moments they had three players with 10 points apiece,

one with eight and another with seven.

Close, in her second year as a head coach after serving as an

assistant for 18 years at UCLA, Cal Santa Barbara and Florida

State, hasn’t shied away from going deep on her bench all season.

She’s used 11 different starting lineups.

”It’s a tremendous ally,” Close said of her team’s roster full

of role players. ”We’ve had so many different players this year

earn double-doubles. We’ve had players with 20-point games, whether

it be a freshman or a senior, it doesn’t matter. We have a lot of

players on any given night who can take advantage of a

mismatch.”

The Bruins are making their 12th NCAA appearance. They have lost

in the second round in their last three trips, in 2011, 2010 and

2006, and haven’t won more than two games in the tournament since

advancing to the West Regional finals in 1999.

Oklahoma stands in the way.

”It was a great win early in the season,” Nyingifa said. ”But

like Coach says, they’re a new team, we’re a new team. It’s March

and anything can happen.”

Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:

http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap