COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — For UCLA, missed shots are merely part of the game. What really matters is what the Bruins do after the ball clangs off the rim.
UCLA snagged a whopping 27 offensive rebounds against No. 3 seed Maryland and squeezed out an 85-80 victory Monday night to earn its fourth consecutive berth in the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Ranked first in the Pac-12 and third in the nation in offensive rebounding, the Bruins repeatedly gathered in their own misfires and turned them into baskets. UCLA compensated for 36 percent shooting by scoring 27 second-chance points.
“We’re not a great shooting team. We don’t rely on the 3-point shot, we don’t have shooters like some of the ones Maryland has,” coach Cori Close said. “But you know that if you happen to miss, someone’s got your back.”
Michaela Onyenwere scored a career-high 30 points and Japreece Dean added 22 for UCLA. Lajahna Drummer snagged eight offensive rebounds and Onyenwere had six.
“We have people who really can get the ball off the rim,” Onyenwere said. “It gives our guards confidence to shoot the ball, because they know we’re going to get the rebound and have extra possessions.”
Dean, the smallest player on the court, sank two free throws with 25 seconds remaining to make it 83-79, and the Bruins held on to beat the Terrapins on their own court.
No. 6 seed UCLA (22-12) will next face second-seeded UConn (33-2) on Friday in the semifinal round of the Albany Region. Though UConn is perennially one of the nation’s finest teams, Close promises that the Bruins will enter that game without fear.
“A lot of teams lose to UConn before they even start,” Close said. “The reality is we have a lot of confidence in what we have built and what we’ve earned.”
Maryland led 76-74 before UCLA’s Kennedy Burke grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a put-back. Teammate Lindsey Corsaro followed with a three-point play with 3:34 left.
Brianna Fraser answered with a layup for the Terrapins to make it 79-78 with 3:16 remaining, and neither team scored again until Burke hit a jumper with 1:03 to go.
Kaila Charles led Maryland (29-5) with 23 points. The Big Ten regular season champions went 1 for 13 from beyond the arc and 15 for 25 from the free throw line.
“It’s been something that we’ve consistently been able to rely on,” coach Brenda Frese said. “So we had some uncharacteristic off-nights for some of our players. UCLA was able to expose that.”
The Bruins in contrast, sank seven 3-pointers and made 20 of 21 free throws.
After trailing for nearly the entire first half, the Terrapins scored seven straight points in the opening 50 seconds of the third quarter to go up 47-44, their first lead since 2-0.
The teams then started trading baskets, with neither holding an advantage of more than three points until Maryland’s Channise Lewis had a steal and a buzzer-beating layup to make it 71-66 entering the fourth quarter.
The Terrapins scored 31 points in the third period, 11 by Charles 6-for-9 shooting after a 2-for-9 first half.
UCLA had 17 offensive rebounds and got 15 points from Onyenwere in building a 44-40 halftime lead.
Stephanie Jones kept Maryland close with 15 points on 7-for-7 shooting, but the Terrapins made only one 3-pointer in seven tries and were 7-for-12 at the foul line.
In eclipsing her previous career high of 29, Onyenwere went 12 for 23 from the floor and 4 for 4 from the foul line.
What was tough about guarding her? Everything.
“Just her athleticism, being able to raise up and shoot,” Jones said. “And she crashed the boards hard. She got points off of that, too. We just couldn’t contain her.”
UCLA: Led by the 5-foot-6 Dean and the very athletic Onyenwere, the Bruins were too quick for Maryland — especially on the boards. UCLA’s fast-paced attack just might work against UConn.
“Player for player, there was a little bit more size, length and athleticism position-wise for UCLA over us,” Frese conceded. “They were able to take advantage of that.”
Maryland: With only one senior on the team, the Terrapins should be better next year. That, to a degree, softens the disappointment of losing on their own floor to a lower seed.
“We have nine of us coming back next year so we’re going to use this as motivation,” said Charles, a junior.
The Bruins will stay on the East Coast rather than head home before going to Albany.
“We’re going to stay right here. We’re East Coasters, at least for a little bit,” Close said. “We’re on spring break right now, so we’re going to go straight to Albany and see what kind of adventure we can find.”
With an upset of UConn, the Bruins would advance to the round of eight for the third time in school history.