Jasmine Dixon and Atonye Nyingifa each scored 11 and Alyssia Brewer added 10 points, as No. 3 UCLA (23-6) defeated No. 6 Utah (18-12), 54-43, in the quarterfinals of the Pacific-12 tournament in Seattle.
Three Utes – Michelle Plouffe, Taryn Wicijowski and Cheyenne Wilson- tied for the team lead with 10 points, and the Canadian Olympian Plouffe grabbed 14 rebounds, 13 on the defensive end.
UCLA, which is ranked No. 13 in the national coaches’ poll, will get a third try at California (28-2, No. 6 in the nation), which has two wins over the Bruins in its current streak of 16, in the semifinals at 6 p.m. PT Saturday.
“The good news is, it’s not a difficult scouting report, the bad news is it’s very difficult to live out,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “I said to our team, ‘Be physical and rebound, it’s going to come down to that,’ and it’s going to be who can establish the paint and hit a few jumpers. It’s going to take a relentless spirit, and it’s going to be a competitive game. We’re highly excited to play them.”
After UCLA led by nine at the half, Utah crept up on it in the second half with a 15-2 run. Plouffe knocked down a three to cut the edge to four, 33-29. Out of the timeout, Rachel Messer hit another three, in the act of falling, to close in by one, but the Bruins answered right back. At the 10-minute mark, Plouffe scored from the inside and added one from the line to tie it at 35-35.
Wilson, the sophomore from Seattle’s Cleveland High School, then gave Utah its first lead of the game, 37-35, with a jumper from the corner. Shortly after a Dixon free throw, Markel Walker put UCLA back on top with back-to-back field goals.
“UCLA does a great job of pressuring the basketball and switching,” Utah coah Anthony Levrets said. “We didn’t adjust to that. It takes a while to see what we were seeing.”
UCLA began pulling back away, and Mariah Williams sank a jumper with the shot clock expiring just under three munutes left that felt like the dagger.
“We have great senior leadership,” Close said, calling out Dixon. “They don’t have any panic in them, they were very calm. It’s really a credit to them.”
Dixon, the Rutgers transfer who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, also surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career during the Utah win.
“We went out and did whatever it took to win,” Dixon said.
UCLA was the 2006 champion in the event, the only interruption in Stanford’s winning of nine of the last 10. Last season as the No. 5 seed, the Bruins were upset in the first round by Arizona, after the Wildcats went 13-for-13 from the line. Friday, Utah became the second team in the history of the tourney to be perfect from the stripe, going 9-for-9. UCLA also defeated Utah, 70-42, in its only meeting with the Utes, Feb.3 in Los Angeles.
In UCLA’s two losses to Cal, it was 70-65 Jan. 20 in Berkeley and 79-51 Feb. 15 in Los Angeles, with Nyingifa scoring 20 in the latter. The Bruins have won all three previous games with Cal in the Pac-12 tourney (2002, 2006, 2011).
Utah, in its second season in the Pac-12 after moving over from the Mountain West, recorded its first win in this event, defeating Arizona Thursday.