Elise Britt and Sydney Leroux scored on each side of halftime, and UCLA held off Central Florida, 2-1, Saturday night at Drake Stadium to reach the final 16 in the NCAA Division I women's tournament.
The Bruins (13-7-2), who have struggled this season and weren't one of 16 national seeds in the tournament, are two wins from an eighth successive College Cup final four berth.
It's an unlikely prospect; UCLA likely is headed to No. 1 Stanford for next weekend's third-round match. The Cardinal (19-0-2) face Santa Clara (13-6-2) in a second-rounder Sunday.
Britt, a senior, scored her first collegiate goal in the 42nd minute, heading home a Dana Wall corner kick. Leroux, on the cusp of the U.S. women's national team, netted her 13th goal of the year in the 49th, heading in a cross from Lauren Barnes (Upland/Upland HS) after a quick restart near midfield.
Central Florida (15-5-3), a regional fourth seed, pressured UCLA after Leroux's goal. Tishia Jewell struck the crossbar less than a minute later, and Bianca Joswiak halved the deficit in the 76th minute.
Kylie Wright (Rancho Santa Margarita/Tesoro HS), who was stretchered off the field with an ankle injury in Thursday's first-round game against BYU, was back in UCLA's starting lineup, but freshman star Jenna Richmond will miss the rest of the tournament with a knee injury suffered Thursday. No diagnosis has yet been made, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament appears likely.
UC Irvine is home against Wake Forest and USC plays at Notre Dame in second-round games Sunday. And Cal Lutheran is home against Redlands in a Division III second-rounder.
BEST OF THE WEST: UC Santa Barbara, the host school for next month's College Cup final four, claimed the Big West Conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 romp Saturday over surprise finalist Cal State Fullerton. The Gauchos (13-4-3) were up by two goals by the 23rd minute, on strikes by Danny Barrera (Thousand Oaks/Westlake HS) and Luis Silva (Los Angeles/Salesian HS), and added a second-half goal by Josue Madueno.
Jesse Escalante (Placentia/Valencia HS) scored for the Titans (7-12-2), who stunned regular-season champ UC Irvine in the semifinals. Fullerton won't make the NCAA Division I tournament; UCI will. Brackets will be released Monday.
CHAMPIONS? YES AND NO: Loyola Marymount (12-5-2) clinched a tie for the West Coast Conference men's title with a 2-0 win Friday over St. Mary's, with David Ponce (Foothill Ranch/Trabuco Hills HS) and Moraga product Phil Da Silva scoring from assists by Rafael Baca (Lawndale/Animo Leadership HS). The Lions, who finish their WCC season Sunday at home against San Francisco (Sullivan Field, noon), are three points ahead of Santa Clara, which lost Friday to Portland.
UCLA finished second in the Pac-10, beating San Diego State, 3-1, in its regular-season finale Saturday as Andy Rose, Chandler Hoffman and Reed Williams (Newport Beach/Corona del Mar HS) scored goals. The ninth-ranked Bruins (14-4-1), who finished a point behind Cal, head into the NCAA tournament with six wins in their past seven games.
NAIA AUTOMATICS: Regular-season champions Vanguard (men), from Costa Mesa, and Azusa Pacific (women) claimed the Golden State Athletic Conference's automatic berths to the NAIA tournaments with one-sided triumphs in the conference's tournament finals.
No. 16 Vanguard (13-6, but 18-1-1 before six forfeits) crushed APU, 3-0, in Saturday's men's final as Kevin Cornwall, Kyle O'Brien (Garden Grove/Century HS) and Tomislav Colic scored goals.
APU's third-ranked women (16-1-2) routed Cal Baptist, 3-0, as Natalie Sun scored twice and assisted a first-minute goal by Heidi Witschi.
NAIA pairings will be released Sunday.