LAS VEGAS (AP)Michaela Onyenwere scored 24 points and No. 9 UCLA beat No. 11 Arizona 58-49 on Friday night to reach the championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament.
The third-seeded Bruins (16-4) will play No. 4 Stanford, the top seed, for the conference title on Sunday.
The Bruins overcame an off-shooting night in the semifinals and staved off a late rally by Arizona (16-5), which carved into a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to get within two with a little more than a minute left. UCLA closed it out with a 9-2 run over the final 1:04.
Natalie Chou added seven points, six rebounds and three steals for UCLA, including a key defensive rebound and free throw during the Bruins’ last surge. Charisma Osborne also had seven points, four in the final 23 seconds.
”Natalie has gone from defining herself as just a shooter to being a great basketball player, a multifaceted, versatile playmaker,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. ”It wasn’t about stats tonight; it was about doing whatever our team needed to win the game. That’s exactly what Charisma Osborne did.”
Pac-12 player of the year Aari McDonald led second-seeded Arizona with 24 points.
One night after the Bruins limited Washington to a season-low 46 points in the quarterfinals, they held Arizona to its lowest output – 18 1/2 points below its season average of 67.5 per game. The Wildcats’ previous low was 59 in a nine-point win over California on Feb. 19.
”We really wanted to focus on being super steady,” Onyenwere said. ”We knew there were going to be ups and downs, lefts and rights with Arizona. They’re a great team and they like to take you out of rhythm on offense and on defense. Our keyword was to stay steady. They went on that run in the fourth quarter. And every single huddle and timeout we were like, `Look, stay steady. They’re going to make their run. Stay steady.”’
Neither team came out with any sort of rhythm, as UCLA was a dismal 3 of 16 from the floor in the first quarter while Arizona shot just 4 for 10. The Bruins’ relentless pressure on the ball, led by Chou’s two steals, forced the Wildcats into six turnovers in the opening period.
But as UCLA began to find a groove, Arizona’s struggles carried into the second quarter after the Wildcats took a 13-10 lead on Cate Reese’s short jumper. They fell into an 0-for-10 drought from the floor over the final 9:13 of the first half. UCLA took advantage by shooting 8 of 14 down the stretch and using a 15-4 run to take a 25-17 lead into the locker room.
Looking to give her team a spark, McDonald struggled while taking many of Arizona’s shots on offense. She went 1 for 6 in the second quarter and 2 for 9 in the first half. Only one other Wildcats player had two attempts in the second period, and nobody else took more than three shots in the opening half.
”It was a tough game, a physical game,” said McDonald, who finished 8 for 24 from the field. ”We were getting stops, but going on scoring droughts didn’t help, crucial rebounds, not stopping the ball. It sucks. Being a competitor, you don’t want to lose. You want to play hard for 40 minutes. Especially because this is my last go-round. But I’m proud of my team for fighting all the way. Just wasn’t there yet.”
No other Arizona player had more than seven attempts.
”I think both teams struggled offensively, because we both played solid defense,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. ”It’s unfortunate. I felt like this year we had a chance.”
Arizona: Senior forward Sam Thomas came in shooting 53% from 3-point range over her last nine games. She took just two shots from deep and made one.
UCLA: Osborne had scored in double figures in 12 straight games and brought a 17.8 scoring average into Friday night. The sophomore guard finished 1 of 12 from the floor in 35 minutes.
Arizona: Awaits its NCAA Tournament bid.
UCLA: Will face top-seeded Stanford in Sunday’s championship game.
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.
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