COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — UCLA put a rapid end to Tennessee’s 38th consecutive appearance in the women’s NCAA Tournament, blunting a second-half comeback bid and using an impressive performance by Michaela Onyenwere to secure an 89-77 opening-round victory Saturday.
After squeezing into the tournament with an at-large bid, the No. 11 seeded Lady Volunteers erased a 17-point deficit before losing in the first round for only the second time in school history. The only other time it happened was in 2009 against Ball State.
Evina Westbrook got candid with us in post-game, said changes need to be made to the program off the court, specifically in the #LadyVols coaching staff. pic.twitter.com/iJjVXlWI4z— Jordan Crammer (@JordanCrammer) March 23, 2019
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Tennessee is the lone program to compete in every NCAA Tournament since the event was first held for women in 1982. The Lady Vols finished 19-13, failing to reach 20 wins for the first time since 1975-76.
Onyenwere had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the No. 6 seed Bruins (21-12), who will next face host Maryland on Monday.
After going up by 16 early in the third quarter, UCLA fell behind 65-62 with 5 minutes left in the game and forged a tie at 70 with 3:34 remaining before rattling off 10 straight points.
Onyenwere began the spree with a layup and Kennedy Burke made successive layups before Japreece Dean sank two free throws. A layup by Onyenwere capped the run and made it 80-70 with 1:22 to go.
Rennia Davis had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Vols and Kasiyahna Kushkituah added 16.
The Bruins raced to a 25-8 lead and shot 10 of 20 from the field during a 28-point first quarter. Tennessee went 10 for 30 from the field and had nine turnovers in a first half that ended with UCLA up 44-32.
After Onyenwere scored the first two baskets of the third quarter, the Lady Vols went on a 20-4 run to pull even at 52. Kushkituah and Mimi Collins each scored six points in the surge and Westbrook had five.
Tennessee found the lane open in the fourth quarter and exploited the weary UCLA defense for a variety of layups and short jumpers. But the Bruins made up the difference on the other end during the pivotal 10-0 run.
Tennessee: It was a very difficult season for the rebuilding Lady Volunteers, who at least kept alive their streak of making the NCAA Tournament. Next season, coach Holly Warlick will work on getting the Lady Vols deep in the bracket.
UCLA: The Bruins showed resilience when it mattered after falling apart in the second half. They will need a complete game to get past Maryland, a Top-10 program with far more talent than Tennessee.
With a victory Monday, UCLA will reach the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row.