LOS ANGELES (AP)There were hugs, smiles and even a water bath celebration for UCLA senior guard Japreece Dean.
Sunday was Dean’s final regular-season game at Pauley Pavilion, but the Bruins have a chance of hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
If this was Dean’s last home game, it was productive. She had 16 points and eight assists to lead No. 9 UCLA to a 77-54 win over Utah.
Michaela Onyenwere added 15 points and 11 rebounds for UCLA, which clinched the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon had already clinched the top seed by winning its third straight regular-season title.
UCLA (25-4, 14-4) and Stanford tied for second, but the Bruins won the tiebreaker over the Cardinal. The top four seeds clinch a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
”I’m really proud of them,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. ”This conference is so good. Any time you can be the No. 2 seed in the No. 1 conference in the country, that’s something you earn. Really proud of that. So much respect for the coaches and players in this conference. That’s a great feat.”
Kiana Moore and Julie Brosseau each scored 11 points off the bench for Utah (13-16, 6-12), which lost five of its last six games.
Dean’s shot was off – she was 1 for 11 from the field – but she was 14 for 14 from the free-throw line.
”I took it as just another game but last night I was thinking about it a lot,” Dean said. ”I couldn’t sleep a little bit. When I got here I felt fine. My teammates were feeding me confidence. Obviously my shot wasn’t falling but you still have to stay in attack mode to make the team better and going to the free-throw line is much easier, probably.”
The Bruins started the game with a 19-4 run, and Onyenwere had eight points during that stretch. She made two free throws, a jumper on the baseline and two layups.
The rout was on from there. UCLA outrebounded Utah 55-37. UCLA had 29 offensive rebounds.
”That was an impressive effort on their part,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. ”I think when they play as hard as they did today you see how explosively damaging they can be. They obviously are more athletic than we are, but they’re just so explosive. We didn’t come with our aggressiveness, the aggressiveness needed. I thought we did a much better job in the second half. The first half our kids and all of us were a little embarrassed. One possession that got five (offensive) boards.”
UCLA led 39-22 at halftime and extended its advantage to 66-38 on a 3-pointer by Kiara Jefferson.
The Bruins shot 30.8% from the field in the first half but thanks to 20 offensive rebounds were able to take 39 shots.
Close went deep into her bench, using 10 players in the first quarter alone. Nine players scored by halftime.
The Bruins had five offensive rebounds on one possession in the second quarter, finally scoring on a pair of free throws after Dean was fouled in the second quarter.
”That’s fun basketball right there,” Onyenwere said. ”Our shots weren’t falling, so everyone was crashing the boards. They weren’t really boxing us out, so we were taking advantage of the boards. That was a fun play. We were smiling and having fun.”
UCLA’s tallest player on the roster is 6-foot-1 but the Bruins are a great rebounding team, even against teams with taller players.
”I think that’s been our calling card all year long,” Close said. ”We’ll be undersized against most every team we play this year – so what? Coach (John) Wooden used to talk about his best rebounding teams being based on quickness, not based on size. That’s what you’ve seen come to fruition. There’s a lot of want-to out there.”
Senior Ally Rosenblum also was honored before the game. Rosenblum is injured, so she didn’t get to come out of the game and get an ovation like Dean, but Close praised her for her positive attitude.
Utah: The Utes will have to hope for several upsets in the tournament, a tough task in the deepest conference in the country.
UCLA: The Bruins are playing well, winning four of their last five games heading into the postseason.
Utah: Earned the No. 8 seed and will play No. 9 Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday.
UCLA: Will play the winner of No. 10 Colorado-No. 7 USC in a Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal game on Friday.
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