Kelley leads Nebraska past UCLA 83-70, to Sweet 16
MINNEAPOLIS: Nebraska shook off a shaky start and showed it belongs in the final 16. The best season the Cornhuskers have ever had will continue for another weekend.
Dominique Kelley scored a career-high 22 points, Kelsey Griffin added 18 points and 14 rebounds and top-seeded Nebraska took apart UCLA 83-70 in the second round of the NCAA women's tournament on Tuesday night.
The Cornhuskers (32-1) advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time in program history. They will play No. 4 seed Kentucky in Kansas City, Mo., next Sunday.
Star Jasmine Dixon managed 13 points for the No. 8 seed Bruins (25-9) after early foul trouble, but the momentum and chaos created by their defensive pressure didn't last past the first quarter of the game.
Griffin, who recorded her 2,000th career point in the first round, got past 1,000 career rebounds to become only the second Nebraska women's player to reach both of those marks.
A few thousand Huskers fans chanted "Go Big Red!" and cheered their team on a 16-0 run early in the second half that broke the game open, fueled by a pair of 3-pointers from Cory Montgomery. She had her own cheering section from hometown Cannon Falls, a 45-minute drive south from the University of Minnesota campus.
The Cornhuskers expressed concern about handling UCLA's defensive pressure, and that wasn't just coach speak.
The Bruins swarmed Griffin with their aggressive matchup zone nearly every time she caught the ball on the block, and often she simply had to throw the ball at the backboard and hope for a foul call.
The Cornhuskers looked unsure at times how to attack, and UCLA's backcourt trap forced more than a few loose balls.
Nebraska started playing some hard-nosed defense after a slow start, though, and the Bruins showed they were just as vulnerable to the pressure. The Huskers took advantage of Dixon's absence — her second foul sent her to the bench for the balance of the half with 10:23 left — and methodically stretched their lead.
None of UCLA's players had NCAA tournament experience prior to this week, and the Bruins wilted after their early charge.
They even picked up a technical foul for having six players on the court, which gave Nebraska a good laugh while the officials sorted it out and allowed the Huskers to tie the game for the first time with 9:33 remaining in the first half.
Nebraska has insisted all along the seed number doesn't matter, that winning is the goal rather than proof it belongs with the game's elite. Though the Bruins were quite the formidable second-round opponent, all the other No. 1 seeds breezed into the round of 16 without even a first-half speed bump: Connecticut won by 54, Stanford by 29 and Tennessee by 28.
UCLA is on the rise, too, trying to escape Stanford's long shadow with young, snazzy-dressed coach Nikki Caldwell injecting an energy and confidence into the program since arriving last season. Dixon, a sophomore who transferred from Rutgers, will return to lead a team that now truly knows what March is like.