March 23, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - 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.
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 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."